Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, was involved in a fatal car accident on her way home from Texas Sunday evening.
According to information from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the accident took place at 6:30 p.m. local time on Highway 385, five miles south of Channing, Texas and about 45 miles northwest of Amarillo.
Williams, driving a 2010 Honda CRV and traveling northbound, crossed the centerline of the two-lane highway into the path of a southbound 2003 GMC Yukon driven by Eric James Gomez of Amarillo. Despite efforts by Gomez to avoid an accident, the vehicles collided head-on, with Williams’ car coming to rest on the southbound shoulder and the Gomez vehicle on the northbound shoulder.
Gomez’ pregnant wife, Brianna, was a passenger in the front seat and was flown to Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo, where she was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m. local time on Dec. 27. A baby boy was delivered by c-section and is in critical condition.
Eric Gomez and his two other children, Mali, age 6, and Eleri, age 4, also were injured in the accident but were treated and released Monday from Northwest Texas Hospital.
Williams had three passengers in her car: her son, Todd, 41, and his two sons, Tristan, 3, and Tyler, 7. None of the passengers were wearing seat belts; Todd and Tyler were both ejected in the accident and remain hospitalized at Northwest Texas Hospital. Sen. Williams and grandson Tristan have been treated and released.
All of the members of the Gomez family were wearing seat belts.
Williams issued a statement Tuesday, saying “I cannot express the horror, sadness and grief I feel for an accident that will change forever the lives of a young family. It is a burden I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
In a statement issued Monday, Senate President Brandon Shaffer said, “This was a horrific accident. I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and my thoughts and prayers go out to the families involved.”?
Williams was the primary sponsor of SB 10-110, a bill signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter on May 26 that requires children under eight years of age to be properly restrained in a seat belt or other child restraint system. Children between the ages of 8 and 16 who are under the care of a child care provider also must be belted in or in a proper child restraint system. The law went into effect on August 1, 2010 with a one-year grace period in which law enforcement officers are allowed only to warn drivers who violate the law, rather than issue citations. The bill as introduced would have made failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense, meaning the driver could be stopped and cited for failure to wear a seat belt or for any front-seat passenger that fails to wear one. She also was a co-sponsor of three other bills — SB 09-296, SB 07-151 and HB 06-1125 — which attempted to do the same. Colorado law currently makes failure to wear a seat belt a secondary offense.
Texas law requires children under the age of 8 to be restrained in a seat belt or other safety system. All passengers in a motor vehicle in Texas are required to wear seat belts; failure to do so is a primary violation.
Williams was elected to the state Senate for the 2005-06 term; she will be term-limited in 2012. She currently serves as vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and vice-chair of the Business, Labor and Technology Committee; in the next session Williams is slated to become the transportation committee chair.
Williams represented House District 41 for four terms, from 1997 to 2005.