Rep. Quentin Williams, D-Middletown, was one of the two drivers killed in a fiery two-car crash at 12:48 a.m. Thursday on Route 9 in Cromwell, legislators said.
Identification of the victims was pending autopsies, but the car that collided with a wrong-way driver near the Cromwell-Middletown line belonged to Williams, legislative and law enforcement sources said. On that basis, his wife Carrissa was notified at 5 a.m. of the accident.
House Democratic leaders said at 10:15 a.m. the family was confirming his death.
Williams, 39, had attended the governor’s inaugural ball in Hartford and was returning home. He took the oath of office for his third term Wednesday, the first day of the General Assembly session.
Legislative business was canceled Thursday, including the organizational meeting of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, the panel that House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, recently named him to co-chair.
Ritter and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said the Capitol and Legislative Office Building would be closed until Monday.
Gov. Ned Lamont directed that state flags be flown at half staff in Williams’ honor.
“This is devastating news, and I am incredibly saddened by this tragedy,” Lamont said.
[RELATED: Hundreds gather at vigil for CT Rep. Quentin Williams]
State police said Williams’ car was traveling in the left lane on the southbound side of Route 9 near exit 18 when a vehicle going north struck Williams’ car head on. Williams’ car was fully engulfed in flames.
The other car was found in the grass center median. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene.
Williams, a popular figure among his colleagues, was known at the Capitol simply as “Q.” His name was Quentin Phipps when elected in 2018, but he took on his maternal surname of Williams in 2022 to honor his mother, Queen, who raised him as a single mother.
“I am in shock,” Ritter said. “Q was my dear friend, and I am scarred by his sudden loss. We will have time to reflect on Q as a legislator in the weeks to come, but right now I deeply mourn my friend and send all of my love to Carrissa, Queen and Q’s family. We will all miss Q.”
“Rep. Williams was an amazing human being. His infectious smile could instantly make a difficult day better,” said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford. “He was an amazing husband, friend and colleague. He loved community and serving others. Truly — a friend to all who knew him. This is a terrible tragedy and a great loss to our state. My heart goes out to his wife, family, and all who loved Q. We will miss him.”
Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said Williams was “a trailblazer, the first Black state representative ever elected in Middletown.” Lesser had been friends with Williams since both were active in Young Democrats.
“He’s been a friend and ally ever since,” Lesser said.
Williams succeeded Lesser in the House, when Lesser ran for state Senate. Lesser said he urged Williams to make the move. “It did not require much arm twisting,” he said.
Williams made the nominating speech for Lesser when he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic endorsement for secretary of the state at the state convention last year. They were together at the inaugural ball.
Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, a close friend, said Williams’ passing was hard to fathom.
“He was such an embodiment of life,” she said. “This isn’t real.”
[Read Palm’s Viewpoints piece about Williams: “On ‘Q’ — Rescuing us from our ignorance and smallness”]
Williams was co-chair of the Aging Committee at the start of the 2021-22 session then took over as Housing Committee co-chair after the resignation of Rep. Brandon McGee. He was appointed to the post on Labor for the current session.
Rep. Geoff Luxenberg, D-Manchester, who succeeded Williams as Housing co-chair, said the tributes will be many, but ultimately inadequate.
“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,” Luxenberg said. “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.”
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who also is from Middletown, said, “Q was someone you wanted to be around, always exuding positivity and happiness.”
Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, called his death “utterly shocking.”
The expressions of grief came from all corners of public life as word of his death spread. Many of the tributes came from people who were with him at the inaugural ball.
“Today the people of Connecticut lost an advocate. Q’s unrelenting dedication to create a more equitable Connecticut for all set the standard for all public officials,” said Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, who served with him in the House. “I am lucky to have been able to call Q a friend. I will miss his passion and energy, and I grieve with his family and all who knew him.”
Alan Cavagnaro, a planning and zoning commissioner who interned for Williams last session on housing issues, said his last conversation with the lawmaker was at the inaugural ball.
“He started talking, and everybody started looking at him,” Cavagnaro said. “We were talking about housing policy coming up in Connecticut this year. He was excited.”
Ed Hawthorne and Shellye Davis, the president and executive vice president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, had a similar encounter.
“Just last night, we talked with Q at the inaugural ball, and he was true to form — brimming with positive energy and a big smile that lit up the room,” Hawthorne and Davis said in a joint statement. “Q was not only an incredible advocate for his constituents in Middletown but for all working people across Connecticut. We were very much looking forward to working with him as the new House Chair of the Labor & Public Employees Committee.”
Williams was a graduate of Middletown public schools and had a business degree from Bryant University and master’s of public administration from Villanova. He was pursuing studies at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
CT Mirror staff writer Ginny Monk contributed to this story.