Friends remember John O'Quinn

HOUSTON [PHOTOS: John O'Quinn through the years ]
[WATCH: Press conference from John O'Quinn's office]

John O'Quinn and his assistant, Johnny Cutliff, died Thursday after O'Quinn lost control of his suburban on Allen Parkway.

"I got the emails and the news reports and said, 'This is a mistake,'" O'Quinn friend Levi Benton said.

Benton, a former state district judge, didn't believe it the news because an hour earlier -- around 7am -- he said he and O'Quinn had been standing in line together at Hobby Airport. Benton was headed to Dallas, and O'Quinn was headed to San Antonio for mediation.

"To know John is to know that smile," Benton said. "So, I encountered that smile and encountered the big warm handshake."

O'Quinn was in good spirits, Benton said. They talked briefly and then parted ways. It was the last time Benton would see his friend alive.

"I know with certainty he made it up to the metal detector," Benton said.

But O'Quinn's plans would mysteriously change, and he would leave the airport.

Less than a hour later -- around 8am -- he was travelling westbound on Allen Parkway when he lost control of his vehicle and collided into a tree. Both he and Cutliff were not wearing seatbelts and died from multiple blunt force injuries, the medical examiner's office said. Their deaths have been ruled an accident.

"He was very giving to many in this community, and he'll be missed," Benton said.

Funeral plans for John O'Quinn have been set for early next week. The viewing will be held from 4-8pm Tuesday at Geo. H. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home. His funeral will be held Wednesday morning beginning at 11am at Second Baptist Church.

About John O'Quinn

O'Quinn is a well-known as a personal injury attorney. He was at the forefront of national litigation like the breast implant cases and was one of the lead lawyers in the state of Texas' massive settlement from the tobacco industry. He also was prosecuted by the State Bar of Texas for how he obtained cases and found in contempt midtrial for sleeping in a jury room.

O'Quinn, a University of Houston Law Center alumnus, was a dedicated and passionate supporter of the university. He served on the UH System Board of Regents from 1993 to 1999, holding the office of vice chairman from 1994-96.

UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator said, "He worked tirelessly in behalf of this university and was one of its most generous financial contributors. The O'Quinn Law Library and O'Quinn Field at Robertson Stadium are the most prominent examples of his philanthropy at UH but are by no means the extent of it."

O'Quinn's car collection

John O'Quinn was an avid collector of classic cars. He owned more than 600 cars, worth more than $100 million, including a Batmobile and a 1975 Escort once driven by Pope John Paul II before he was named pope.

Dangerous stretch of road?

The road where O'Quinn crashed has been the scene of numerous accidents over the years. City officials even took steps to give drivers along Allen Parkway more traction as they negotiate the curves along Buffalo Bayou after our own Marvin Zindler got involved.

O'Quinn was 68 years old.

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