State Rep. Quentin Williams killed in wrong-way crash; 39-year-old rising star in legislature
State Rep. Quentin “Q” Williams was killed in a wrong-way car crash early Thursday after leaving the governor’s inaugural ball, legislators said.
Two people were killed in the crash on Route 9 in Cromwell after 12:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the Connecticut State Police. The initial investigation showed that one car was traveling southbound on Route 9 near the Exit 18 on-ramp when a wrong-way driver struck the vehicle head-on.
Williams, a 39-year-old Democrat starting his third term serving Middletown, was sworn into office Wednesday and had been recently named as the House chairman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee.
Legislators and staff members were stunned to hear the news Thursday morning as word spread quickly.
The state Capitol and the adjacent Legislative Office Building are closed to the general public on Thursday and Friday, and all committee meetings have been canceled as lawmakers and others throughout the state mourn the young legislator.
Williams attended the ball on Wednesday night and was seen chatting with colleagues in the lobby area of The Bushnell theatre in Hartford before Gov. Ned Lamont entered the ball with his wife, Annie. Williams was standing in the lobby at about 8 p.m. with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and the state’s constitutional officers, not far from Lamont, as they prepared to head inside to the main area of the theatre for the beginning of the official program of the evening. Williams had a huge smile on his face.
Bronin tweeted a photo of himself with Williams, saying, “Last night, Q Williams was so full of energy, joy, and passion for his new role and the work ahead. Heartbroken by the news this morning.”
A rising star in the House Democratic caucus, Williams had recently been given increased responsibilities by House Speaker Matt Ritter as the new co-chairman of the labor committee. Ritter had previously appointed him as chairman of the housing committee.
“Q was going to be appointed to a lot of other things and probably elected to a lot of other things,’' Ritter told The Courant in an interview. “He had a great combination of both personal skills and political skills and policy drive. He was driven by policies, but he knew that, to get those policies achieved, he had to work with people. He was just beginning to come into his own as a really prominent leader in our caucus, and the new assignment [on the labor committee] reflected that.’'
As a relatively young legislator, Williams was paired recently with Sen. Julie Kushner, a longtime respected union leader who co-chairs the labor committee and had been expected to share her decades-long knowledge with Williams as they worked together on key legislation.
“You could see the career evolving,’' Ritter said. “He was one of the better-connected legislators between his fraternity and his work down in Stamford advocating for schools and all the things he’s done. It’s a monumental loss for Middletown and the state. The chamber and the Capitol will always remember Q Williams. That, I am confident of.’'
Lamont ordered all state flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor the three-term lawmaker.
“This is devastating news, and I am incredibly saddened by this tragedy,” Lamont said. “Quentin had an infectiously optimistic personality, and he absolutely loved having the opportunity to represent his lifelong home of Middletown at the State Capitol. Public service was his passion, and he was always advocating on behalf of the people of his hometown. He was a genuine person with a genuine soul, and he will be missed.’'
Connecticut Democrats offered condolences to the family on Twitter. “Rep Quentin Williams was the model of a public servant and his tragic death has us all in mourning,’' the statement said. “Q was a dear friend to so many in government and his community. His smile lit up a room, and he was admired and respected by all.”
State Comptroller Sean Scanlon, a former Democratic legislator who served with Williams, wrote on Twitter that he was devastated to hear the news.
“He was a passionate fighter that cared so deeply about policy and helping people,’' Scanlon wrote. “He had the best laugh of anyone I’ve ever met and will be so missed. RIP brother.”
State Attorney General William Tong, another former state legislator in the House Democratic caucus, said Williams was known for his optimism.
“I met Q before he became a state legislator when he was an advocate for a local school in Stamford, and I can only think of one word to describe him—hopeful,” Tong said. “Q was always brimming with optimism and possibility. He had a spirit that was relentlessly positive and aspirational. We need his light more than ever, and that’s why it is so hard to lose him. I offer my deepest condolences to his wife and his family and the community that he loved and served.’'
Longtime law professor Sara Bronin, the wife of the mayor, said, “I saw him yesterday, after he was sworn in for his third term, & he was so excited about the upcoming session. His genuine desire to improve people’s lives motivated his all-too-short 39 years.”
The accident happened after 12:30 a.m., and both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene in the fiery crash, according to state police. The Williams family was notified of the accident at about 5 a.m., and legislators started hearing of the crash at about 6:30 a.m.
The crash is still under investigation, and anyone with information is asked to contact Trooper Michael Dean at Troop H in Hartford at 860-534-1000. State police have not released the name of the northbound driver. The crash was first reported by Hartford Courant columnist Kevin F. Rennie in his daily blog.
Williams proposed to his wife, Carissa Phillippe, in an unusual fashion during a party at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
He was serving as the Middletown city treasurer and Charter Schools for Excellence manager at the time when he was honored in the annual “40 Under 40′' party by the Hartford Business Journal. His then-girlfriend was a doctoral candidate at University of Kansas and traveled to Hartford to see him win the award at a large party that was attended by 600 people.
“We had looked at rings on Valentine’s Day, and I knew which one she wanted,” Williams said at the time. “At the awards program, you get to say three words for free when you get your award and then pay $5 per word to a charity for any extra words, so I knew I had to plan carefully.”
When he stepped forward to accept the award, Williams thanked his mother and cited a scripture passage. He then called Phillippe on stage and asked, “Will You Marry Me?’'
The stunned crowd of 600 started clapping as Williams placed the ring on Carissa’s finger.
“It was awesome,” he said about sharing the moment with hundreds of watchers.
Williams developed close friendships with staff members and legislators, including Ritter’s chief of staff, Franklin Perry, and state Rep. Geoff Luxenberg of Manchester.
“In a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking instant, I learned that my friend of nearly 20 years, Quentin “Q” Williams has tragically passed away,’' Luxenberg said. “No statement from any friend, colleague, politician or person will ever be able to capture in words his humility, his passion for justice, or his zeal for life. When Q laughed – his one-of-a-kind booming laugh – you felt his joy deep in your soul. When he smiled, the room lit up. When he spoke, everyone listened. And when he worked as chair of the Housing Committee, or in any legislative capacity, you knew with a certainty that was both comforting and rare, the bedrock of his work was a passion and love for the people of Connecticut that was deeper and more authentic and more real than anyone. State legislators come and go, but there will never be another Q.’'
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