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Posted at 12:02 PM ET, 01/10/2011

Ashley Turton, former Hill aide, dead in burning car

By Paul Duggan, Anne Kornblut and Theola Labbé-DeBose
Paul Duggan

The wife of a key White House aide was found dead early Monday in a sport-utility vehicle that was heavily damaged by fire in the garage of the couple's Capitol Hill home, sources familiar with the incident said. The cause of her death is uncertain.

Ashley W. Turton, 37, an energy company lobbyist and former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), was found dead shortly before 5 a.m. in a burning BMW, the back end of which was partly out of the garage, as if the vehicle had been entering or leaving when the fire started, authorities said.

From the scene. (Gerry Martineau/Post)

Authorities said her death appears to have resulted from a low-speed crash, an unknown medical condition, the fire, or some combination of the three.

"We have no evidence of any obvious malfeasance in her death at this time," said Capt. Michael Farish, of the D.C. police homicide unit. The department's major crash unit is handling most of the investigation for the police department.

Turton was the wife of Daniel A. Turton, 43, the White House's deputy director of legislative affairs for the U.S. House. As such, he is President Obama's point man on legislation moving through the House.

He and Ashley Turton, who have three children, were a Washington power couple well known in Democratic circles. She was a lobbyist for North Carolina-based Progress Energy, which announced a merger Monday with Duke Energy.

"Ashley was a valued employee whose insight and hard work had been critical on so many of our legislative and regulatory issues," Bill Johnson, president and chief executive of the company, said in a statement. "She was also a dear friend to many of us and this news is very hard to take."

Pete Piringer, a D.C. fire department spokesman, said neighbors near the couple's two-story brick house at 800 A Street SE called for help about 4:50 a.m. after they saw flames spewing from the garage, which faces Eighth Street SE at the rear of the house. He said firefighters found a burning vehicle facing into the garage with a dead body in it.

Real estate records show Daniel Turton purchased the house for $826,000 in 2003.

As of noon Monday, authorities had not publicly identified the victim.

But Pete Rouse, interim White House chief of staff, sent an email to the staff on Monday informing them of the tragedy.

"It is with great sadness that I share with you some news about our White House family. Dan Turton's wife, Ashley, died this morning at their home in Washington," Rouse wrote. "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."

Ashley Turton
(Screengrab from Facebook)

A source familiar with the incident, speaking on the condition of anonymity because it is still under investigation, said the SUV was "about seven-eighths of the way" into the garage and was stopped "at a weird angle." He said the vehicle was heavily damaged by fire, but said he could not discuss the condition of the body.

Most of the smoke and fire damage was contained to the garage, according to Piringer, who said an adult male and several children in the house were unharmed. He said no 911 call came from the house and it is possible that the man and children were unaware of what had happened until firefighters arrived.

The cause of the fire and the woman's death are under investigation by D.C. police, the medical examiner's office and fire department investigators, Piringer said.

[This post has been updated.]

Location where the body was found:

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Turton's body found here

By Paul Duggan, Anne Kornblut and Theola Labbé-DeBose  | January 10, 2011; 12:02 PM ET
Categories:  Paul Duggan, The District, Theola Labbé-DeBose  
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