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Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski, 3 others killed in Elkhart County crash; congresswoman's car crossed center

Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, two of her staffers and a fourth person were killed in a crash Wednesday.

ELKHART COUNTY, Ind — NOTE: This story was updated to reflect the correction from police that it was the SUV Rep. Jackie Walorski was in that crossed the center line and caused the fatal crash.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski was killed Wednesday in a car crash in her northern Indiana district along with two members of her congressional staff and another person, police said.

The crash happened in Elkhart County around 12:30 p.m., when the SUV Walorski was in crossed the center line on State Road 19 and collided head-on with another car, the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday. The updated information came after eyewitness and video evidence was located. Police had originally said the driver of the other car crossed center. 

Walorski, 58, two of her staff members and the driver of the other vehicle, identified as 56-year-old Edith Schmucker, of Nappanee, died in the crash.

The staff members were identified as 28-year-old Emma Thomson, the representative's communications director, and 27-year-old Zachery Potts, her district director and the Republican chairman for northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County. 

Police said Potts was the one driving at the time, but the sheriff's office does not know yet what caused Potts to cross the center line.

Police said everyone in the crash had on seatbelts and airbags did deploy. They are looking for any other potential witnesses and are asking those people to call the sheriff's office.

Reaction to Rep. Walorski's death

Reaction to the death of the congresswoman and others killed in the crash came quickly.

"Janet and I are devastated by the tragic loss of our friend Congresswoman Jackie Walorski and her two staffers - Emma Thomson and Zach Potts - earlier today. Our broken hearts go out to her husband Dean and the entire family during this time of unimaginable mourning," Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said in one of a series of tweets Wednesday. 

In the wake of the crash, former South Bend mayor and current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he was "shocked and saddened" to hear of the death of Walorski, who was born and raised in South Bend. 

RELATED: State, US leaders pay respects to Rep. Jackie Walorski after deadly crash

Buttigieg, a Democrat, and Walorski, a Republican, both found their way from South Bend to Washington, D.C. 

While in the nation's capital, Buttigieg said he worked with Walorski and, although they came from different places politically, she was "always prepared to work together where there was common ground, always decent and straightforward, and she cared deeply about her work and her constituents."

Walorski served as the U.S. representative for Indiana's 2nd Congressional District since 2012. She previously served six years in the state's Legislature.

Walorski was elected to serve as a congresswoman around the same time former Vice President Mike Pence was elected to serve as Indiana's governor.

Pence tweeted after the crash saying that he and his wife, Karen, are "heartbroken by the tragic passing of our dear friend Rep. Jackie Walorski." 

He went on to say:

"She served Indiana in the Statehouse and the Congress with integrity and principle for nearly two decades and will be deeply missed.

Our prayers are with her husband Dean, her family, and the families of Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson who also perished in the crash. We're praying God’s comfort over their families and to all who loved and admired this truly inspiring Indiana leader. God Bless Jackie Walorski."

Rep. Walorski's career

Walorski and her husband were previously Christian missionaries in Romania, where they established a foundation that provided food and medical supplies to impoverished children. She worked as a television news reporter in South Bend before turning to politics.

Walorski spent her political career focused on growing the economy and bringing good jobs to northern Indiana. She also sought to strengthen national security and help veterans in need of care. 

"At every level of public service, Jackie was known to be a positive force of nature, a patriot, and a relentless policymaker with an unwavering loyalty to her constituents," Holcomb said. "Jackie’s record of achievement is impossible to quantify."

She served on the House Ways and Means Committee, giving her the opportunity to play a crucial role in how leaders use the nation's funding. 

She also was a ranking member of the subcommittee on Worker and Family Support, where she focused on helping small businesses and manufacturers grow and expanding opportunities for workers across the country, according to her biography on the U.S. House of Representatives' website. 

She was also a ranking member of the House Ethics Committee. 

Holcomb said Walorski will be remembered as, "a fighter with a huge heart that always went the extra mile and I’ll treasure the times we walked a few of those together."

Walorski won the Republican primary in May after running unopposed and was heavily favorited to retain her seat for a sixth term in November.

Republicans will have to choose another candidate to run in the general election, but state GOP leaders say she'll be hard to replace.

"Yeah, haven't even given that any thought. I mean, they won't be able to fill her shoes, they just won't. She was one of a kind," said Indiana Republican Party chairman Kyle Hupfer.

 

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