Williams' fight is over
Seattle Times staff reporter
Only nine days earlier, Curtis Williams had been at Husky Stadium watching his former college-football teammates scrimmage.
Only two days earlier, Williams celebrated his birthday with his family in Fresno, Calif., where they ate ice cream and played games.
But yesterday, Williams died at his brother David's home, in Fresno, Calif. The former Washington safety, who had been paralyzed from the neck down since October 2000, died sometime between midnight and 7 a.m.
"The only way that I can look at it is that he's finally got his arms and legs back," said David Williams. "I try not to look at it that he's actually gone because I'm really going to miss him. It's going to be a tough one, but I just keep imagining him running around and playing like he's a kid again."
Williams was injured from a helmet-to-helmet collision at Stanford on Oct. 28, 2000. He tackled Cardinal running back Kerry Carter in the third quarter of Washington's victory, and suffered an injury to the C-2 vertebrae. Williams was paralyzed from the neck down.
The exact cause of death was not known, but David Williams said he believes that his brother's body temperature dropped too low for his organs to continue functioning.
"That's something that is common with quadriplegics because they can't regulate their own body temperature," he said. "You have to blanket them when they're cold and fan them when they're hot."
Williams had 24-hour health care during the week, but the nurse left on Sundays at midnight, said Mike Hunsinger, Williams' attorney. Williams breathed at night with a ventilator, the only machine that monitored Curtis at night, said his brother. As long as air continued to flow from the ventilator, there would be no alarm, he said.
Funeral arrangements and memorial services likely will be announced today. Williams is survived by his daughter, Kymberly, who lives with her mother Michelle in Anchorage, Alaska. Williams was the seventh of eight children, and lived with older brother David and his wife. J.D. Williams, another of Curtis' older brothers, is a former NFL linebacker and an assistant coach at California.
The Fresno County coroner said yesterday no decision had been made on whether to perform an autopsy.
Williams had been in Seattle less than two weeks ago for six days. He was driven up in a van and accompanied by two nurses. Williams shopped at Nordstrom's, delivered the ceremonial first pitch at a Mariners game and discussed completing six classes he needed for his undergraduate degree. His weight was up, said former teammate Greg Carothers, and so were his spirits.
"He was talking good," Carothers said. "He was happy."
Carothers replaced Williams in the starting lineup at strong safety, and for the past two seasons tried to play with the same intensity as Williams. The two spoke for about 45 minutes on April 27, when Washington played its spring-football scrimmage.
"A lot of people talk about struggle and what they've given to the program," Carothers said. "But this guy, we're talking about a struggle just to live for the last month and a half of his life. He gave his life to the program."
Coach Rick Neuheisel, in Spokane for an alumni association golf tournament, issued a statement through a UW spokesman.
"I choose to take this time to celebrate Curtis and his memory," Neuheisel said. "As his brother, David, told me today, 'He's somewhere right now and he's running fast.' "
The weekend before he came to Seattle, Williams' body temperature had dropped, said Hunsinger, but he was cleared for the trip. He said Williams felt great after the visit.
"I talked to him last Friday, and he was thrilled with how he had been greeted and treated while he was up here," said Hunsinger.
Washington Athletic Director Barbara Hedges, also in Spokane, said in a statement that Williams' death was a "complete shock." Hedges spoke with Williams at the spring scrimmage and asked if he wanted to go on the field.
"He told me no, but he was looking forward to coming back to campus in the fall and wanted to be back on the field for a home game," Hedges said. "We were all looking forward to that moment."
During his trip to Seattle, Williams met with counselors about completing his degree. There was discussion about completing correspondence classes using a voice-activated computer.
Williams also attended a fund-raising dinner at a Belltown restaurant that raised more than $30,000 for the Curtis Williams Fund, which has generated more than $300,000 since the injury. At the dinner, he spoke with Dick Baird, the former Washington assistant who recruited Williams.
"He was a warrior and he was an inspiration and he will have a lasting moment in the Husky tradition," Baird said. "He won't be here to enjoy it, but he will be known in the annals of Husky history. He will always be loved by the Husky faithful."
Williams came to Washington from Bullard High School in Fresno. He was recruited as a running back and switched from offense to defense and back to offense before he flourished at safety during Neuheisel's first season at Washington. He was No. 2 on the team in tackles with 69 as a junior.
Williams attended several Washington games after the injury, including the 2001 Rose Bowl 34-24 victory over Purdue, which the Huskies dedicated to Williams.
About three-fourths of the team met on campus yesterday afternoon. Offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson spoke to the group, as did several players, including Larry Tripplett and Braxton Cleman, who were among Williams' closest friends on the team.
"You never want to lose the memory of that guy who was a hard charger," Gilbertson said, "who played that hard, was that committed to this program. ... That's really what today is all about for us, remembering a guy that was a Husky."
Danny O'Neil can be reached at 206-515-5536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.