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Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones Dies

Story updated 8:29 p.m.

House ethics Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) died Wednesday after suffering a massive aneurysm while driving her car the day before, according to family and hospital officials.

Doctors said earlier Wednesday that the aneurysm “burst in an inaccessible part of her brain” and that medical specialists “determined that she has very limited brain function.”

Police found Jones unconscious behind the wheel of her car Tuesday night, according to local news reports. Cleveland police tried to pull over her speeding car before it veered off the road into a field.

“Throughout the course of the day and into this evening, Congresswoman Tubbs Jones’ medical condition declined. Medical doctors and neurosurgeons from Huron Hospital and Cleveland Clinic sadly report that at 6:12 p.m. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones died,” said a statement from the hospital and family.

“She dedicated her life in public service to helping others and will continue to do so through organ donations.”

Colleagues eulogized the 58-year-old Jones as a force in the House, with a combination of charm and knowledge that could disarm or defeat her opponents.

“Whether you were a presidential candidate, a colleague debating on the floor or a friend passing time, you wanted her on your team for her quick legal mind, tenacious debating skills, her infectious humor and that 1,000-watt smile,” Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said. In her career, she had many firsts as an African-American woman in Congress and in Ohio politics.

“It wasn’t enough for her just to break barriers in her own life. She was also determined to bring opportunity to all those who had been overlooked and left behind – and in Stephanie, they had a fearless friend and unyielding advocate,” said Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president.

Her death was reported prematurely by several news outlets earlier in the day, including Roll Call, as well as by several of her colleagues.

According to the Ohio secretary of state’s online election calendar, 4 p.m. Wednesday was the deadline for a party to certify a name to fill a vacancy on the ballot. Kevin Kidder, a spokesman for the office, said attorneys were discussing the matter.

Jones’ death leaves a vacancy at the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, where she has served as chairwoman since the beginning of the 110th Congress.

The ethics gavel is one of four panels appointed by House leadership, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) must now select a successor. The panel’s next senior Democrat is Rep. Gene Green (Texas), followed by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Bill Delahunt (Mass.).

Jones succeeded Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.) in the Democrats’ top ethics seat. Berman temporarily took on the senior Democratic role in April 2006 after then-ranking member Alan Mollohan (W.Va.) stepped down amid a federal investigation.

The five-term Democrat was the first black woman to represent Ohio in Congress and the first to serve on the Ways and Means Committee. Her replacement on the committee will be picked by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and then ratified by the full Democratic Caucus.

She served on the ethics panel that in 2006 investigated allegations that then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) sent inappropriate messages to House pages. Last year, after the indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) on bribery charges, she clashed publicly with ethics ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) over how to pursue an investigation.

The daughter of an airport skycap, Jones grew up in Cleveland, went to college and law school at Case Western Reserve University, and then worked as a local government lawyer. She served as a judge in Cuyahoga County before being appointed to serve as the county’s prosecutor — becoming both the first woman and the first African-American to hold the position.

Jones was elected to the House in 1998, after 30-year Democratic incumbent Louis Stokes retired. She has cruised to re-election since then in a heavily Democratic district that includes most of the east side of Cleveland and some suburbs. An early backer of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the presidential race, Jones was scheduled to attend the Democratic National Convention next week. She had planned to cast her ballot for Obama.

Her husband of 27 years, Mervyn L. Jones Sr., died in 2003. She is survived by her son, Mervyn Leroy Jones II.