Democrats in Washington, D.C., lost a well-known powerhouse Monday morning when lobbyist and former Hill staffer Ashley Turton, 37, died in a car fire at her home on Capitol Hill.
Turton, former chief of staff to Rep. Rosa DeLauro and wife of Dan Turton, White House deputy director of legislative affairs for the House of Representatives, worked as a lobbyist for Raleigh, N.C.-based utility giant Progress Energy Inc.
Turton’s car was discovered ablaze in the family’s row house garage around the 800 block of A Street Southeast near Eastern Market, according to the D.C. Fire and Metropolitan Police departments.
Police said there was a heavy fire in the garage at 4:45 a.m. that caused significant damage to Turton’s 2008 BMW X5, which was partially backed out onto the driveway and appeared to be singed. When the fire was extinguished, firefighters discovered Turton’s body inside the car.
The MPD major crash investigation unit announced at 4 p.m. Monday that impact from a low-speed crash caused the fire. “It’s quite possible that the victim was maneuvering the car and came in contact with some kind of flammable chemical materials,” D.C. Fire spokesman Pete Piringer said.
In a statement Monday, DeLauro said she and her husband, Stan, were “shocked by the tragic loss of our dear friend and colleague.” She 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,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “She was a member of our family, and we mourn her.”
Democratic House leadership also mourned her loss Monday.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) released a statement of condolences to the family and friends. “The Capitol Hill community knew Ashley for her professionalism and commitment to public service, and many called her a friend,” he said. “She was taken from her family and her community far too soon, and I know that she will be greatly missed.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) also released a statement: “As anyone who serves on Rosa’s staff, Ashley was a fighter for our nation’s underserved and underprivileged. She was a consummate leader in the halls of the House, respected by Members and colleagues alike.”
Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) called Turton “bright, dedicated, and driven by her commitment to strengthen America. ... She seemingly did it all: mentoring younger staff, dispensing sound advice, and caring for her family.”
Caroline Choi, Turton’s friend and a co-worker at Progress Energy, was too choked up to comment. Brian Wolff, a lobbyist at Edison Electric Institute and close friend, said, “She was just a gift. It’s such a loss for everyone. So many people knew and loved her.”
Police were still investigating the incident as of press time. “This could be just a tragic freak accident,” Metropolitan Police Lt. Nicholas Breul said. “And that’s why we’re crossing our i’s and dotting our t’s because it is a little freaky, and we need to figure out why. But there is no indication now that there was any crime.”
Turton’s neighbors were in mourning following the news. Julie Domenick, a lobbyist who lives on the Turtons’ Eastern Market block, said, “I, of course, was aware of Ashley’s impressive professional legacy, but I also knew Ashley as a charming, spectacular, neighborhood mom who herded her three adorable, curious young children ... with great skill and even more love.”
As a Raleigh, N.C., native, Turton worked in Tar Heel State politics early in her career. She held positions with then-Gov. Jim Hunt (D) and then-Attorney General Mike Easley (D) before moving to the District, where she took a job with then-Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).
Turton began her stint with DeLauro in April 2000 as a press secretary. She advanced to leadership aide and floor assistant three years later and senior policy adviser in 2004 before being promoted to chief of staff in March 2005.
In September 2007, she left DeLauro’s office to join Progress Energy’s Washington, D.C., office. “Ashley was a valued employee whose insight and hard work had been critical on so many of our legislative and regulatory issues,” Bill Johnson, Progress Energy president and CEO, said in a statement.
According to some reports, Turton was scheduled to fly out of the District Monday, presumably to participate in the announcement of her company’s $13.7 billion merger with Duke Energy Corp.
She is survived by her husband, Dan, 43, twin 4-year-olds and a 2-year-old.
Jessica Brady contributed to this report.