Man pleads guilty in fatal DUI that killed woman in front of her kids

Steven Willis and Samantha Miller
Steven Willis and Samantha Miller

The man whose drunk driving killed a woman in front of her children has pleaded guilty and will face jail time.

Steven Willis, 39, of Maryville pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, resulting in death. Willis was driving a 2014 Chevrolet truck northbound on Interstate 55 at about 8 p.m. Oct. 22, 2015, when he hit Samantha Miller’s Mitsubishi, which was broken down by the side of the road.

Miller, 27, was attempting to repair the car while her three children waited inside. The children were injured in the accident; Miller was pronounced dead at the scene.

“This was a terrible tragedy for the victim and her family and loved ones,” Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said in a statement. “I pray that we can provide some measure of healing for them by bringing this defendant to justice.”

A News-Democrat investigation showed that Willis has received at least 40 traffic citations since 1994 in Madison and St. Clair counties, most of which were dismissed with “court supervision,”" so they never impacted his official driving record.

Willis pleaded guilty to a Class 2 felony, which carries a sentence of three to 14 years in prison. He remains free on bail until his sentencing at a later date. He will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.

Willis has already settled a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from Miller’s death on behalf of her children. Joshua Miller and Barry Monroe, the administrators of her estate, sued Willis and The Hangar, a tavern near his employer. Joshua Miller is the father of the children, who were injured when Willis’ car struck their vehicle.

According to the suit, The Hangar is the bar in Cahokia where Willis allegedly went for drinks on the day in question. Jet Aviation Inc., Willis’ employer, was named as a respondent in discovery to require them to provide information regarding the case, but are not named as defendants.

The suit was settled by the insurance companies in May 2016, according to documents filed with the court, with various insurance payouts totaling approximately $500,000 toward the care and education of the children.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald