Jeffrey Williams received the worst news of his life the morning of Oct. 2, 2012.
He was getting ready for school when an employee at Clark’s Barbeque, where his mother Misty worked, arrived at the door to tell him she and his unborn brother had been killed in a car wreck on U.S. 377.
“I felt like the whole world just kind of fell apart,” said Williams, a senior at Tioga High School. “She’s basically the one that raised me.
“I was kind of living in fantasy land after that happened. I felt like everything was a dream.”
The woman who caused the accident, Christie Swinney of Celina, was under the influence of Xanax, hydrocodone and Ambien and convicted last year of intoxicated manslaughter. She was sentenced to six months in prison, 10 years probation, $1,000 fine and permanent forfeiture of her driver’s license.
“People die; it happens. You’ve just got to bounce back and live your life. You can’t be stuck in the past,” Williams said.
“People pass. You never know when, but it will happen eventually. You just cherish your time you have with people and live life day to day.”
The tragedy marked the beginning of a high school career that’s now characterized by resilience, independence and achievement that have put the 18-year-old on an ambitious path toward adulthood. Williams has been offered a $20,000-per-year academic scholarship to Pace University in New York City where he will pursue a degree in entrepreneurship.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur all my life, and what better place to do it than New York,” Williams said.
Born and raised in Tioga, Williams and his mother lived with his grandmother and uncle, who cared for him after the accident. His father is a Mexican national who is still living south of the border.
Williams was raised to be independent, managing his own money and providing for his own meals. He says the life lessons his mother left him have helped him succeed.
Williams had never been on a vacation until three weeks ago, when he took a trip to New York City by himself, using money he had made working the stock market using an app on his cell phone.
“It was amazing. It gave a new light into the world, gave me motivation,” Williams said. “I was amazed. People were doubting whether I should or shouldn’t go to New York, and I went and loved it.”
The $1,500 he spent on the trip was just a portion of what he has made trading stocks. Williams last week won the district UIL academic competition in the current events category and has used his knowledge of news to teach himself the trade, along with watching YouTube videos on how to do it.
Williams has also used the Internet to teach himself woodworking, filmmaking, blacksmithing and computer programming. He even completed an engine swap on his car without any previous knowledge on automotive repair.
“It took two days, but it worked,” Williams said. “I’m definitely into DIY stuff. I just like learning things.”
Williams will walk the stage with Tioga’s first graduating class since 1961. He’s earned close to 30 hours of college credit from Grayson College through the Early College Readiness program. He said the school was responsive to his needs following the accident.
“It was a really positive response from the community,” Williams said.
While he has moved on, Williams is not over what happened in 2012 and doesn’t expect to be.
“I haven’t recovered. I’ve just learned to deal with it,” Williams said.
“It’s always going to be a part of me; it’s always going to be a part of my childhood. I guess it kind of makes me stronger as a person.”