ELKHART — U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-2nd District) was killed in a car crash in Elkhart County on Wednesday, according to the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department.
Three other people were killed in the crash, which took place while Walorski and two others were in a sport-utility vehicle heading north on Indiana 19 south of Wakarusa around 12:30 p.m., according to police. The vehicle Walorski rode in was driven by Zachery Potts and crossed the center line for “reasons unknown at this time,” colliding with another sport-utility vehicle going south.
Potts, 27, and Emma Thomson, 28, were with Walorski, and both were killed in the crash.
Walorski, 58, has served Indiana’s 2nd district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2013.
Potts was the chairman of the St. Joseph County Republican Party. Thomson was Walorski’s communications director. The group was returning from a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Claypool, Indiana, at a soybean processing facility.
Congresswoman remembered:Indiana, national leaders react to U.S. Rep. Walorski’s death
Elkhart County police are still investigating the crash. The driver of the southbound car was identified Wednesday afternoon as Edith Schmucker, 56, of Nappanee, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
“Larger than life and possessing an infectious personality that captured the attention of every room, Congresswoman Walorski was a fierce advocate for her district,” said Susan Baxmeyer, the vice chair of the St. Joseph County Republican Party, in a statement. “Never once was she without a smile, or a kind word, or a rousing and inspiring message. She poured her heart and soul into each day’s work.
“And while this district is losing an incredible representative, the bigger loss is that of a loyal friend.”
“Jackie’s work on behalf of our community, the state of Indiana and to the United States of America stands as a testament to the power of a passionate and powerful voice, and her extraordinary leadership can and has made a difference, first in our community, then in Indiana, and now across the United States,” Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood said.
“A strong woman of deep and enduring faith, Jackie’s legacy stands as a model to all of us to an unwavering service to others and our Country above self. She is and will forever be a patriot,” he added. “Jackie will be missed.”
Baxmeyer said that Potts became involved in the local Republican party as a high school student. Along with serving as the county party chair, he was also the district director for Walorski and the district chair on the Indiana Republican Party State Committee.
Mike Bellovich, a Republican who has served on the Mishawaka Common Council since 2012, said Potts, just 27, had done well to move the county Republican party forward.
“He was not someone who ever accepted the odds,” Baxmeyer said of Potts in her statement. “Tell him it could not be done, and he worked even harder. There was always a new challenge to tackle, another project to take on and a campaign to win.”
Walorski’s local roots
Walorski, 58, was born and raised in the Gilmer Park neighborhood just outside South Bend’s southern city limits. Her father Raymond was a South Bend firefighter who owned an appliance repair shop and her mother Martha worked as a meat cutter at a grocery store.
After attending Liberty Baptist College and graduating from Taylor University with a bachelor’s degree in communications and public administration, she spent the first four years of her career as a reporter for WSBT-TV.
From there she held leadership or fund-raising positions at the St. Joseph County Humane Society, Ancilla College, the South Bend Regional Chamber and Indiana University South Bend, before founding and operating a Christian ministry in Romania for four years with her husband, Dean Swihart. The couple live in the Jimtown area of Elkhart County.
Walorski was elected to the Indiana House in 2004, 2006 and 2008 before losing her first congressional election in 2010 to two-term incumbent Joe Donnelly. But after the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly redrew the sprawling 10-county district to remove Michigan City, historically home to more Democrats, and added heavily Republican areas of Elkhart and Kosciusko counties, she narrowly beat Democrat Brendan Mullen in 2012. She won by 21 percentage points in 2014, 18 points in 2016 and 14 points in 2018 but has never won St. Joseph County.
Jackie Walorski, Indiana Congresswoman, Is Killed in Car Crash
Ms. Walorski, 58, was first elected to Congress in 2012. She was traveling in her district with two aides, who were also killed.
WASHINGTON — Representative Jackie Walorski, Republican of Indiana, was killed in a car accident in her district on Wednesday, according to her office. She was 58.
Ms. Walorski’s husband, Dean Swihart, was informed of her death by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office, her office said in a statement. “She has returned home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” the statement said. “Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Ms. Walorski was traveling with two aides who were also killed in the crash, when a passenger car and a sport utility vehicle collided head-on: Zachery Potts, 27, her district director, and Emma Thomson, 28, her communications director, according to the Elkhart County sheriff. The driver of the oncoming car was also killed.
“They were the epitome of public servants who cared deeply about the work they performed on behalf of the constituents of Indiana’s Second Congressional District,” Tim Cummings, Ms. Walorski’s chief of staff, said about the aides.
The House is in its summer recess, a period when lawmakers often return to their districts to meet with constituents.
“Jackie was an instrumental member of our conference, serving as a member of my deputy whip team for several years,” Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, said in a statement. “Jackie and her staffers died serving her constituents. They will be missed, and our nation will miss their service.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who lauded Ms. Walorski for being “admired by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for her personal kindness,” ordered the flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff. The White House said it would fly flags at half-staff on Wednesday and Thursday in memory of Ms. Walorski.
“We may have represented different parties and disagreed on many issues,” President Biden said in a statement, “but she was respected by members of both parties for her work on the House Ways and Means Committee.”
Ms. Walorski, who was first elected to Congress in 2012 and was known as a moderate, also served as the top Republican on the House Ethics Committee. She was among the 147 Republicans who voted last year to overturn the 2020 election results.
“I share the concerns of many Hoosiers about irregularities in the way some states conducted the 2020 presidential election,” Ms. Walorski said in a statement explaining her position.
She also voted against impeaching President Donald J. Trump last year. Mr. Trump endorsed her 2022 re-election campaign.
Ms. Walorski was staunchly anti-abortion and on Tuesday had been visiting the Bella Vita Pregnancy Center in Knox, Ind., a nonprofit that aids women with unplanned pregnancies.
“Her Midwestern values of hard work, fairness and kindness were a model for members,” said Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas.
Before she was elected to Congress, Ms. Walorski served three terms in the Indiana State House, spent four years as a missionary in Romania and worked as a television reporter in South Bend, Ind.