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Driver who killed 2 NHP troopers gets max: ‘Stupid, ignorant decision that I made’

Updated June 12, 2024 - 8:48 am

Just before Jemarcus Williams was sentenced to prison for killing two Nevada Highway Patrol officers, the mother of one of the two dead troopers described the grief she and her family have been wrestling with ever since.

“It’s beyond what words can express,” said Judith Abbate, addressing the packed courtroom. “My heart hurts every second. I’m half dead.”

After hours of statements from the families of the two officers, a Las Vegas judge gave Williams the maximum sentence possible for killing Sgt. Michael Abbate and trooper Alberto Felix while driving in the early hours of Nov. 30: between 16 and 40 years.

Williams, 46, who appeared before Judge Susan Johnson after pleading guilty in April to two counts of DUI resulting in death, said he regrets getting behind the wheel.

“I hate the stupid, ignorant decision that I made, which ultimately ended up having devastating and traumatic effects,” Williams said at his sentencing hearing on Tuesday.

The families of Abbate and Felix filled the room alongside uniformed officers showing support for their colleagues. The pair had stopped on northbound Interstate 15 near D Street to check on another motorist who police said had fallen asleep at the wheel when they were struck.

“You and your family may believe that the punishment that I impose today is harsh and maybe even unfair, but it’s not the death sentence that you gave to Sgt. Abbate and trooper Felix,” Johnson told Williams, whose relatives were also present at the hearing.

DUIs: A preventable crime

Yu Meng, the deputy district attorney representing the state in its case against Williams, highlighted the ways that DUIs can be prevented: taxis, ride-share apps or calling friends and family.

And Williams acknowledged this. “With all the many options of safe transportation available, I still chose to get behind the wheel,” he said.

Williams expressed an intention to advocate against the dangers of drunk driving after he is released, and he said he was sending “his heart and prayers” to those whose lives his decision to drive impacted.

After Williams addressed the courtroom, the family members of Abbate and Felix were given the opportunity to speak, each of them urging Johnson to give Williams the maximum possible sentence.

“These people were men like you,” said Arlene Felix, Alberto’s wife, to Williams as she spoke at the hearing. “They loved like you. They were not just police officers. They had family and friends and coworkers that loved them. They had dreams, plans and a lot of life still in them.”

Grieving Sgt. Michael Abbate

Judith Abbate spoke about the impact of losing her son. “It is impossible to experience joy in a true feeling,” she said of life in the months following his death.

His father, Michael Abbate Sr., recalled that the crash “damaged” his son so much that the family could not have an open casket. “Instead, we were only able to kiss his coffin,” he said.

Abbate’s sister, Michele Abbate, said that her brother was the person who made her tough, strong and independent. “If there was someone I was going to try to impress or seek approval from, it was him,” she said.

When calling for the maximum sentence, Michele Abbate told Johnson, “we have an obligation to society to show people what the consequences of such a crime are.”

Abbate left behind his wife, Vanessa Abbate, and a 3-year-old son. “The hardest thing in life is finding someone you can’t live without, and then living without them,” Vanessa said.

She and her son will be spending Father’s Day on Sunday visiting Abbate’s grave.

“You think doing laundry for one less person wouldn’t be a complaint,” she said. “But to never again wash my husband’s items brings me to tears every time I’m folding laundry.”

Trooper Alberto Felix remembered

Arlene Felix said that in her home, her family still has their Christmas tree standing. This is because the last thing her 8-year-old son did with his dad was hang the tree lights.

“When he asked me not to take it down, I knew what it meant for him,” she said.

She works at a local hospital, and was on her night shift when NHP showed up at her house and tried to get ahold of her. She knew something was wrong, as NHP never typically came to her house, she said.

“I called and texted Felix, but he was not answering,” Arlene said. As hospital staff, she could access the computer system showing trauma patients in the hospital at the time. On this list of patients, she saw her husband’s name with the word “expired” next to it.

Arlene has since taken a voluntary demotion as it’s too difficult for her to see trauma patients.

Felix’s sister, Julie Hauenstein, said he was passionate about his work as a state trooper. She remembered pressing him about what it’s like to see the worst of people. She said he responded, “I look behind the circumstance to the heart.”

The eldest of three siblings, Alyssa Belle Felix, echoed this passion, saying that despite she and her mom occasionally asking him to stop working a dangerous job, she could see in his eyes how happy it made him.

“I’m proud that he is my father,” she said. “I wanted to be just like him — I want to be just like him.”

Contact Estelle Atkinson at eatkinson@reviewjournal.com.

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