After eight years living in Flagstaff, Ariz., Stephen Quinn decided to pack up everything he owned in his souped-up Jeep Wrangler and drive more than 2,500 miles across the country to his hometown in Massachusetts.
After saying his goodbyes, he started driving the night of Jan. 31, passing through Colorado, Kansas, Indiana and West Virginia.
Last Monday night, he texted his mother that he was going to stop at a hotel in Pittsburgh before driving the rest of the way to their home in Newburyport, Mass., a coastal town about 35 miles north of Boston.
"He was so tired. He just said, 'I can't go any further,' " Carol Quinn said. "He liked the way Pittsburgh looked."
Whether Mr. Quinn, 26, actually managed to catch a few hours of sleep is unclear. But around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Pennsylvania State Police said his vehicle crashed into a barrier, flipped over and burst into flames in the northbound high-occupancy vehicle lanes of Interstate 279.
Mr. Quinn died of injuries to the chest and head, according to the Allegheny County medical examiner's office. He was so badly burned, authorities could not immediately identify him or even make out the license plate on his vehicle.
State police are investigating the crash and believe speed was a factor.
Mr. Quinn moved to Flagstaff in 2005 to study engineering at Northern Arizona University. He'd never been out west before, but he liked what he saw on a webcam on its website.
"He used to sit there and watch it," Ms. Quinn said.
He was always interested in how things worked and loved cars and electronics, Ms. Quinn said. She remembered one Christmas Eve he stayed up all night to install a stereo system in his sister's car to surprise her.
But the workload at Northern Arizona was tough, and Mr. Quinn didn't finish.
He worked several jobs in Arizona, one as a sous chef in a Sedona restaurant, then started selling cars.
He went to reservations outside Flagstaff, where he developed a deep connection with the Native Americans, said his friend and former employer, Rich Beecroft.
"He found a way to connect with customers to find their wants and needs," he said. "It was a natural knack for him."
Mr. Quinn loved Arizona's open skies and rolling mountains, off-roading in the desert and selling cars, but he wanted to move home to reconnect with family and friends. And it was hard to make money there, Ms. Quinn said. He wanted to work in a bigger market and was trying to make some contacts at dealerships in Massachusetts.
"He wanted to get home as fast as he could. He was excited," his mother said.
Ms. Quinn texted her son Tuesday morning, saying he was lucky he had beat the snow. He didn't respond. A short time later, Peter Quinn called his wife at work and said he was coming to take her to lunch.
She knew something wasn't right. Her son had been in an accident. She wanted to call the hospital.
"Then he said, 'You can't call the hospital. He's gone,' " Ms. Quinn said.
Mr. Beecroft said Mr. Quinn, who worked for him nearly two years, was outgoing, honest, fair and independent -- qualities that also made him a good salesman. "He had such a competitive spirit. He always thought he could go a little bit further," he said.
Mr. Quinn is survived by his mother and father, a sister, Katelyn, all of Newburyport, and a grandmother, Mildred Gibson, of Danvers, Mass.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944.