CHICAGO (CBS) — Twenty years after a family tragedy tied to the infamous “licenses for bribes” scandal, the Willis family is basking in the limelight.
WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, after winning rave reviews on the TV show “America’s Got Talent” last week, The Willis Clan was preparing for the next round of the competition.
The 12 brothers and sisters – whose ages range from 3 to 22 – are the grandchildren of Rev. Duane “Scott” and Janet Willis, whose six youngest children died in a fiery crash in Wisconsin in 1994.
The crash became a tragic symbol of the wide-ranging “licenses for bribes scandal” that led to the conviction of former Gov. George Ryan, as the crash was the result of the Willis family minivan erupting in flames after striking a piece of debris from a big rig whose driver had bribed a worker at an Illinois driver’s license facility, which Ryan ran at the time as Illinois Secretary of State.
The children’s father, Toby Willis, said since the deaths of his six siblings, his family has moved forward, refusing to be bogged down by sadness. He said his children’s singing and dancing is part of that process.
Toby Willis and two other siblings were not in the van at the time of the crash. Their parents survived the wreck with severe burns.
More than 75 people, including the governor, have been convicted of various federal charges in connection to the licenses for bribes scandal involving corruption at Secretary of State licensing facilities.