SCRIPT: Those Were Our Children 2/99

Tonight, an explosive investigation. The incredible story that is emerging from a catastrophic accident. When an 18-wheel truck and a family van filled with sleeping children crossed paths on a Midwest highway, profound tragedy resulted and a huge political scandal erupted from the flames.

The headlines in Chicago shouted bribery, outrageous cheating on the truck driver's licensing test and allegations that powerful, high-profile people knew or should have known what was going on. Was public safety being compromised for political gain? Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross with a tragedy that led to a search for justice.

BRIAN ROSS, ABC News

There have been lots of good times at the Parkwood Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago.

JANET WILLIS, MOTHER

Hey, are you sure you know how to hold babies?

REVEREND SCOTT WILLIS, FATHER

Sure.

BRIAN ROSS

But none better than when its pastor, the Reverend Scott Willis, and his wife, Janet, came home with their ninth child, Pete, in September of 1994. At the age of 47, Janet had already seen three older children grow up but still had six little ones at home.

JANET WILLIS

I was either pregnant or nursing most of the last 15 years. It just seemed very normal for me.

REVEREND SCOTT WILLIS

You can put it on the record that she was barefoot and pregnant most of the time.

BRIAN ROSS

There were laughs all around that day as the youngest Willis children welcomed their new brother.

SAM WILLIS, SON

My name's Sam.

JANET WILLIS

Who are you?

BEN WILLIS

Ben.

JANET WILLIS

And who's that? Who is the little guy?

BEN WILLIS

Pete.

BRIAN ROSS

But this would be one of the last of the good times for the Willis family.

ELIZABETH WILLIS

Elizabeth.

JANET WILLIS

OK. And that's Hank.

HANK WILLIS

Hank.

BRIAN ROSS

A little more than a month after this home video was made, these six children would all be dead, killed in a tragic highway accident involving a dangerous truck and a driver with a suspect license, an accident that first devastated the Willises and now has led them on a long, difficult search for justice.

REVEREND SCOTT WILLIS

There was no accountability. If our children had been murdered, we would expect justice to be served. And in this case, we would expect also that justice, accountability would be taken care of.

BRIAN ROSS

And there wasn't accountability?

REVEREND SCOTT WILLIS

There wasn't accountability. It seemed like it was avoided. It was not only avoided, but it was being stifled.

BRIAN ROSS

And now Janet and Scott Willis have found themselves up against some very powerful people as they dare to ask questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their six children, which responsible authorities had, until recently, failed to.

JANET WILLIS

There is a sense of this is something we have to do. It would be a whole lot easier just to let this all go by and let us go on with our life.

BRIAN ROSS

What's involved are questions about a system that allegedly put thousands of unqualified truck drivers on the road and then ignored warnings of danger.

TERRY BRUNER, CHICAGO BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION

Someone had to die. There had to be an awful accident. And that's exactly what happened. I mean, it was predictable if you think about it.

BRIAN ROSS

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