Williams remembered for infectious energy, passion for career
Police in South Jersey saluted as vehicles carried the body of State Trooper Frankie Williams. Williams and another man died on Monday night, after the other man's vehicle crossed a highway median and hit Williams' car head-on. (Dec. 6) AP
MILLVILLE – A decade of college studies and a drive to be better underlay the promising law enforcement career that died with rookie state Trooper Frankie Lamar Williams on a stretch of dark highway here Monday night.
An Egg Harbor Township resident, who was just married, he still managed to come a long way in a relatively short lifespan of 31 years.
Williams graduated training with the New Jersey State Police in late January to be assigned to one of the southernmost outposts — the Port Norris barracks. It wasn’t long before he came to people's attention in a favorable way, which would surprise no one who knew him.
“Frankie truly was a wonderful human being,” said Dean Wyks, a professor of criminal justice studies at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing and Rutgers University.
Williams was killed from injuries received in a head-on crash between his cruiser and a car on Route 55 about 7 p.m. Monday. He was responding to a complaint about an “erratically driven” vehicle on the highway. A helicopter took him to Cooper University Hospital in Camden where he was pronounced dead.
State police are continuing their investigation of the incident. But preliminary evidence is that the other vehicle, a red Toyota Corolla, had been driving in the southbound lane when it entered the grass median on Route 55.
Pittsgrove Township resident Lloyd Rudley then entered the highway's northbound lanes and hit Williams' cruiser, a Crown Victoria. Rudley, 61, of Upper Neck Road, was pronounced dead at the scene. He is a resident of Philadelphia, according to property records.
John Redden, chief of the Millville Rescue Squad, said the cruiser ended up resting on the driver’s side while the Corolla was upright. Heavy damage resulted in an “extremely complicated extrication,” he said.
Col. Rick Fuentes, state police superintendent, said Williams' death "has left the entire state police family heartbroken."
"The division lost an exemplary young trooper with the promise of a great career," Fuentes said. "A family lost an only child, a wife lost a husband, and New Jersey lost a leader and a role model. We ask that the Williams family remain in your thoughts and prayers as they absorb this tragedy, and grant them privacy as they begin the grieving process."
Condolences from police departments and union and local officials, and state and federal legislators started coming Monday night and continued throughout Tuesday.
Williams earned his first college diploma at Atlantic Cape, an associate’s degree in 2009, and then started after a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“Frankie was very much interested in people," Wyks said on Tuesday. "Truly, a very friendly and inquisitive guy about people. And I think he found it a way to engage in service.”
Wyks, a lawyer, tried to encourage him to enroll in law school. Instead, his former student was at Rutgers seeking a master’s degree in criminal justice.
“He really as an individual had tremendous potential,” Wyks said. “At one time, he was considering the FBI at the same time he was considering the state police. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Frankie, no matter what you do, you’re going to end up running that organization.' ”
“He was well-liked here,” said Jane Siegel, chair of Rutgers’ criminal justice department. “He was a very charming and engaging young man. We’re all reeling from this.”
In 2012, Rutgers dedicated the Lifelong Learning Center on the Atlantic Cape campus in Mays Landing. Williams, who had just graduated, was picked to address the crowd on behalf of students.
Williams talked about the importance of providing educational access to people like himself who were holding down a job, paying a mortgage and eyeing the start of a family.
Atlantic Cape issued a statement about Williams on Tuesday afternoon.
“Frankie graduated with an Associate in Science in general studies in 2009,” spokeswoman Stacey Clapp said. “He discovered his passion for law enforcement during an elective Intro to criminology course, and transferred to Rutgers at Atlantic Cape, were he earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice.
“He motivated many at the college with his passion and focus on his education and career,” Clapp said. “Frankie had a bright future ahead of him, and our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.”
Williams, who attended high school in Florida, was inducted in 2012 to the Alpha Sigma Lambda chapter of the National Honor Society.
While attending Atlantic Cape and Rutgers, Williams had worked at a Lowe’s store in Egg Harbor Township. He was a customer service associate for almost three years and then the loss prevention manager for almost six years, leaving to begin six months of training at the state police academy in August 2015.
Keith Splawn, now a Lowe's store manager in Philadelphia, managed the Egg Harbor store for two years while Williams was there and planning to be a trooper. "I watched him work his way up," he said.
"Just a great person, great personality," Splawn said. "Would do anything for anyone. He was the type of person you couldn’t find anyone who would say anything bad about."
Splawn said people would turn to Williams because of his energy. "If you were not having a good day, he was one of those people you could speak to to raise your spirits," he said.
Wyks said Williams was one of the few former students he had as a Facebook friend. The importance of steadily adding to one’s education even as a trooper was one topic of conversation.
“I said, ‘Frankie, if you have a job, you still go (to school) part time because you get out of the routine,’” he said. “He knew the profession was becoming more about education.”
The state police now have lost three troopers in fatal accidents on South Jersey highways during the past year, including Williams.
Trooper Eli McCarson, a 30-year-old rookie from Washington Township, died Dec. 17, 2015, when his patrol car hit a pole off a highway in Quinton, Salem County.
Trooper Sean Cullen, 31, died March 8 after he was struck by a vehicle at the scene of an accident on Interstate 295 in West Deptford.
There has been no announcement of funeral plans for Williams. The flag at the Port Norris barracks was lowered to half-staff.
Courier-Post staff writer Jim Walsh contributed to this story.
Joseph P. Smith; (856) 563-5252; firstname.lastname@example.org