At 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, former Gov. George Ryan officially became a free man and opened up publicly for the first time about the tragic deaths of the Willis children — and how he prays for them daily.

“I am no longer on probation and am free to travel . . . and talk,” said Ryan, who was released from a five year stint in federal prison on corruption charges last year.

In an exclusive interview with Sneed, Ryan reflected on his future — as well as the 2008 deaths of six children of Scott and Janet Willis, which overshadowed his subsequent trial on corruption charges.

“It was a terrible, heartbreaking thing to have happened to the Willis family,” said Ryan, referring to the crash that killed six of Scott and Janet Willis’ children. 

“As the parents of six children, my wife Lura Lynn and I could never comprehend the grief and heartache the Willis’s endured,” said Ryan, referring to a car accident which claimed the lives of the Willis children.

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The Willis family van, driven by Scott Willis, children’s father, ran over a piece of steel fallen off a truck on I-94 in Wisconsin. Their gas tank exploded, engulfing their van in flames.

An investigation revealed the driver of the truck that dropped the piece of steel had received his license through a historically rigged testing system at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, which Ryan once headed.  

“Lura Lynn and I put them in our daily prayers then and that continues to this day,” said Ryan, who feels no responsibility for the death of the children.

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