Cynthia Williams sifted awkwardly through the confused pile of papers on her lap yesterday as she searched for her husband Raymond's car insurance policy. Every so often, she would look up, swallow and stare numbly ahead before returning to her task.
Four days ago, Raymond Williams stopped his car in the middle of New York Avenue NW at 3 in the morning to help a woman lying in the road. He put her in his car and was walking back to the driver's seat when another car struck him, crushing his right leg against his own bumper.
Tuesday night, as doctors at Washington Hospital Center were closing the wound left by the amputation of Williams' leg, the 49-year-old school custodian died. An autopsy revealed that a massive blood clot had blocked the flow of blood to his lungs.
"The nurse said the operation had been a success but his heart stopped on him," Williams' older brother, Merlin C. Williams, said yesterday. "They tried to massage it, but it had just stopped."
In the hours before the operation, Raymond Williams had talked calmly with his wife and brother about the future, showing no rancor over the accident that had taken his leg.
"He had no regrets about stopping to help the woman," his brother said yesterday. He paused, and Cynthia Williams looked up from her work to finish the thought. "He said it was just one of those things that happen."
"He was in good spirits when we talked," she added."He was just waiting to go into the operation."
"I was going to go in and see him Tuesday, but he said he had to go into surgery so I should wait a day," said Edward Green, principal of the Jackson Road Elementary School in Silver Spring, where Williams had worked as building services manager for the last 10 years.
"He said, 'I'll see you tomorrow,' Green said. "He said he'd be out of that hospital in a month and he'd be walking out, he'd get an artificial leg," he added.
Just two days before that conversation, Green said, Williams had called him at home to make sure that his jobs at the school would be taken care of. "He called me at home Sunday morning at 8 a.m. -- he called from the intensive care unit 28 hours after the accident," Green said.
"He wanted to be sure we got the keys so we could open the school Monday."
"He never talked about the things that he did. He just did them," Cynthia Williams said yesterday, as she sat, surrounded by relatives in the living room of her home n the Kentland section of Prince George's County. "If people needed help, that'd be the end of it."
Williams, who earned more than $15,000 as a school custodian, left no life insurance policy, his wife said. She earns about $6,000 a year as a clerk at the Zayre's department store in New Carrollton.
Loretta Dawkins, the 46-year-old Northeast woman whom Williams stopped to help Saturday morning, caught her breath and could say nothing for several seconds yesterday afternoon after she was told of his death.
"I just don't have no comment," she finally said. "The family has my condolences. I just can't say anymore."
Dawkins had said she was riding with two men in a car ahead of Williams after leaving a party that morning. The men, who had been taking her home, suddenly asked her to get out of the car, she said. When she refused, they pushed her out near the intersection of New York Avenue and M Street NW.
"I was in shock," Dawkins said the day after the accident. "I was trying to get up . . . All of a sudden, he (Williams) asked if he could help me . . . He helped me to his car . . . (Then) he got hit."
Edward Gardner III, the man police say was driving the silver 1975 Mustang that struck Williams, has been charged with failing to give full time and attention to driving. When hospital officials told police of Williams' death, the officers routinely forwarded the records of the case to the U.S. Attorney's office.
It will be up to the U.S. Attorney to decide whether to bring criminal charges against Gardner.
There was litle talk of Gardner or prosecutions in the Williams living room yesterday, as a protective circle of friends and relatives surrounded Cynthia Williams, some quietly moving to help if one of her children came in with a problem or complaint.
"The kids took their father's death pretty bad. I don't think the young ones understand it yet," said Cynthia Williams, who met her husband nearly 25 years ago when he was stationed with the Navy near her home in Rhode Island.
Next to Cynthia Williams was another small pile of paper, with get well cards and notes of admiration from friends and strangers who had read of her husband's accident in the newspaper. As she picked up a few to open them, some folded $5 bills and checks tumbled out.
Her hand went to her eyes as she read from the letters. One, addressed to her husband, said, "You are the type of person which makes this country special.
"Human life is such a fragile thing," the letter continued. "Occasionally its nobility is also brought home to us, helping us all aspire to the best within us by passing on a measure of the courage that belongs to people like you."