Houston attorney, associate killed

O’Quinn, assistant killed in crash
Taylor Timmins and Rucks Russell/11 News
October 30, 2009
HOUSTON— Two people, including one of Houston’s most prominent attorneys, were killed Thursday morning in a single-vehicle crash on Allen Parkway.

Famed trial lawyer John O’Quinn and an assistant were traveling westbound on Allen Parkway in a black Suburban around 8:15 a.m. when the crash occurred.

Investigators said O’Quinn, 68, was driving, and neither man was wearing his seatbelt.

Police at the scene said the SUV lost control, jumped the curb, went airborne and crashed into a tree on the eastbound service road.

The tree nearly cut the SUV in half. Both O’Quinn and his passenger, Johnny Cutliff, died at the scene.

Investigators were looking at weather and speed as possible factors in the crash.

“It could be both or it could be something else. It’s just way too early to tell,” Lt. L.J. Satterwhite of the Houston Police Department said. “Certainly Allen Parkway is a winding road. And people can misjudge it if they’re not careful.”

A witness told 11 News the SUV appeared to be moving at a high rate of speed when it lost control.

She and a friend rushed to the crash site to help the men, but it was too late.

Police said they’ve yet to determine exactly how fast the vehicle was traveling, but witnesses told them it was between 50 and 60 mph.

Investigators had traffic blocked for hours after the accident, and crews had to cut down the tree before removing the vehicle.

Some people who live along Allen Parkway believe the street is dangerous – especially in the rain.

Steve Garza heard the impact of the crash and saw the flashing lights behind his home before he knew what happened. He said he’s had a front-row seat to accidents before.

“About a month and a half ago within a three-day span, we had nine accidents at this location,” Garza said.

TXDoT stats indicate there have been 72 accidents on Allen Parkway through August of this year.  That’s already more than the 61 accidents recorded last year.

Garza said he’s sent dozens of e-mails to the Department of Public Works, complaining about conditions he believes are akin to a ticking time bomb.

“I had stated that I believed somebody was going to get killed out here,” Garza said.

News of the crash spread quickly, and Houstonians took to the Internet, expressing their condolences and remembering O’Quinn.

“What a sad day; our city has lost a truly generous benefactor and business titan. Mr. O’Quinn was also a gentleman in the finest southern tradition. May God comfort his relatives and closest friends,” one khou.com reader wrote.

“He made a lot of friends, more enemies, and even more money- a Houston legend is lost in what appears to be a very unremarkable incident. My best wishes to his family. He did donate more than his fair share back to the community- no matter how you thought of his methods in obtaining the funds,” another khou.com reader wrote.

Cutliff was also being mourned at the O’Quinn Law Firm downtown. He had worked for O’Quinn as a driver and assistant for 26 years.

“I want to remind everyone that there’s two peole who died here today and we miss Mr. Cutliff greatly,” said Christian Steed with the O’Quinn Law Firm. “He was great friends with everyone in the law firm and treated everyone with respect, and we grieve with his family for that loss.”

O’Quinn, founder of the firm, made a name for himself handling plaintiff’s litigation, including lawsuits against breast implant manufacturers and tobacco companies.

More recently, he represented Anna Nicole Smith’s mother, Virgie Arthur, in a battle over the fate of the body of the late actress.

SUV crash kills prominent lawyer John O’Quinn
Colleagues mourn; accident also leaves a passenger dead
Dale Lezon, Peggy O’Hare, Mary Flood
October 30, 2009
Houston Chronicle
Legendary Houston attorney John O’Quinn was speeding on rain-slicked Allen Parkway when he lost control of his SUV and crashed into a tree Thursday morning, killing himself and his passenger, police said.

Emergency workers labored to remove the bodies of O’Quinn, 68, and Johnny Lee Cutliff, 56, from the impaled Chevrolet Suburban after the 8 a.m. crash. Neither man was wearing a seat belt, police said.

About an hour earlier, O’Quinn had been standing in the security line at Hobby Airport intending to catch a flight to San Antonio for a mediation.

“He shook my hand. He laughed. He had that great smile. He was John,” said former state District Judge Levi Benton, who was headed to Dallas and stood in line with O’Quinn.

But O’Quinn’s plans somehow changed after that brief encounter, and he left the airport.

Houston attorney Dan Cogdell said he was in the airport at 9:30 a.m. when he heard an operator repeatedly paging O’Quinn, telling him to report to a Southwest Airlines gate for departure.

“It was very eerie,” Cogdell said. Cogdell said he later learned of O’Quinn’s death after his own flight was canceled and he returned to his office to see an announcement from the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

Police must pull the data computer from O’Quinn’s vehicle to determine how fast he was driving. But witnesses told officers he appeared to be driving between 50 and 60 mph in a 40-mph zone, a Houston Police Department spokeswoman said.

Force uprooted tree

Investigators said it appeared the SUV veered to the left in the 1900 block of Allen Parkway, jumped a curb and careened over a grassy median, crossed the eastbound traffic lanes and hopped another curb onto a second median before smashing into the tree on the south side of the road. Tire marks across the first median show the path of the hurtling Suburban.

The slick road could have contributed to the crash, said police Lt. L.J. Satterwhite. Persistent drizzle was in the area around the crash time.

The front end, hood, roof and passenger side of the Suburban were badly crumpled. The windshield was shattered, and the engine appeared to hang from the chassis. The battery, air filter and other debris were scattered on the service road about 20 yards west of the crash site.

The driver’s side air bag was deployed, as well as others around the vehicle.

The force of the impact uprooted the nearly 30-foot-tall tree, one of several lining the second median. The Suburban’s rear came to rest on top of the uprooted trunk. The tree was cut down so the Suburban could be towed off.

Pulled from scarred trunk

Investigators and work crews were still at the crash site more than three hours after the wreck. Workers sawed all the limbs from the tree and then pulled the SUV away from the scarred trunk.

Houston police said the wreck is the sole fatal crash on the entire stretch of the Allen Parkway so far this year. HPD officials recorded no fatal wrecks on the Allen Parkway in 2008, 2007 and 2005. One fatal wreck occurred in 2006 and six in 2004.