© APAshley Turton was found dead in her vehicle after a car crash and subsequent fire.
A veteran congressional aide who worked most recently as a lobbyist and was married to a senior White House legislative affairs official was found dead in her car Monday behind the couple's Capitol Hill home following a low-speed car crash and subsequent fire.
Ashley Turton, whose husband, Dan, is the White House's deputy director of legislative affairs for the U.S. House, died in the early-morning incident in the garage behind 800 A Street SE, friends, her employer and congressional leadership aides said. City fire and police units responded to the vicinity of the home at about 5 a.m. Monday, according to fire department spokesman Pete Piringer.
"It had heavy smoke and fire conditions in a garage - an attached garage of a 2 and ½ story rowhouse," Piringer said. "The homeowner initially indicated that everyone in the house was accounted for. Firefighters were able to quickly knock down the bulk of the fire during the firefighting operation, but they did find an adult occupant of the vehicle [in the garage] deceased."
Police have not officially identified the victim, but the White House, congressional leadership aides and Progress Energy Inc., the company where she worked, all confirmed that Ashley Turton died in the car fire.
Ashley Turton worked as an aide to former Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and then as chief of staff to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). She later became a lobbyist for Progress Energy, a North Carolina-based utility company.
Dan Turton spent about 10 years as an aide to Gephardt before working for a few years as a lobbyist and then joining the House Rules Committee staff of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). He took the White House job when President Barack Obama came into office in 2009.
"It is with great sadness that I share with you some news about our White House family," according to an e-mail by senior adviser Pete Rouse to Obama administration staffers about the incident. "Dan Turton's wife, Ashley, died this morning at their home in Washington. Many of you have worked with both of them during their careers on Capitol Hill, and they exemplify the definition of public servants. We are making every resource available to Dan and his family in his moment of need, and we will update you soon about where you can send condolences to the Turton family."
Authorities have not determined the exact cause of the crash or why the car, a 2008 BMW X5 sport utility vehicle, caught fire in a low-speed crash.
"The leading theory is accidental, [that] the car crashed through the garage doors and...was found on fire in the garage area," Piringer said, adding that the incident is under joint investigation by the fire and police departments. "There were some unusual circumstances - just the way the car was, low-speed, significant fire, things like that....For the most part, the fire was confined to the area of origin."
Neighbors say Ashley Turton was heading to airport for an early flight.
As word spread on Capitol Hill about her death, heartfelt tributes to Ashley Turton began pouring in from the House Democratic leadership, including statements from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, as well as others who worked with her.
"She was enormously respected by members of the Democratic Caucus for her savvy and intellect; she was beloved by many for her generous spirit and good humor," according to a statement from Pelosi. "She seemingly did it all: mentoring younger staff, dispensing sound advice, and caring for her family."
Hoyer praised Turton's "professionalism and commitment to public service, and many called her a friend. She was taken from her family and her community far too soon, and I know that she will be greatly missed."
DeLauro called Turton a "pioneering chief-of-staff who knew how to make the House of Representatives work for people. She was a leader and comrade-in-arms to so many staff. She was a member of our family, and we mourn her. My heart goes out to her family, especially her husband, Dan, and their three young children. This is truly a terrible week for our congressional family."
Steve Elmendorf, who worked with Ashley Turton in Gephardt's office, said she was "just a wonderful person."
"She loved her children and Dan. This is unfathomable."
Scott Segal, an energy lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, called her "simply one of the best people I've worked with in my couple of decades in D.C. She was smart, caring, funny, easy to get along with, talented, and very well respected on both sides of the aisle. Our hearts go out to her family. This is a tragic loss."
Mike Hughes, spokesman for North Carolina utility giant Progress Energy, told POLITICO the company is "devastated" by the news.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband and family," he said. "Ashley was just an extremely knowledgeable person and a friend to many people. She will be sorely missed."
Progress Energy on Monday announced a merger with Duke Energy that would create the country's largest utility company, Hughes said. Turton would have played a key role on Capitol Hill discussing the merger,
"She certainly would have had a role in notifying legislative staff," Hughes said. "She was a regular liaison with staff members."
Turton has three young children - 4-year old twins and a 2-year old. Her family also has been dealing with a brother, Blair Westbrook, who suffered severe brain injury last summer in a motorcycle accident.
Brian Wolff, a close friend, said he spoke Sunday with Turton about how her brother's therapy was being cut off. "I was telling her we should set up a foundation," said Wolff, a senior vice president at the Edison Electric Institute and a former top political House Democratic adviser to Pelosi. "It's just horrific. She's so close to her family. She took such great responsibility."
Of Turton, Wolff added, "The Capitol Hill community, her former colleagues in the Congress, her colleagues at work, we're all just devastated at the loss. She's a unique person."