U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., 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.
Walorski earned tributes from colleagues of both parties, and her death comes at a time of frequent traffic fatalities.
The crash happened about 12:30 p.m. when a car crossed the center line on a state highway and collided head-on with the SUV Walorski was riding in, the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office said. Three people in the SUV, including Walorski, 58, were killed, as was a woman driving the other car, authorities said.
Walorski, who served on the House Ways and Means Committee, was first elected to represent Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District in 2012. She previously served six years in the state’s Legislature.
“She has returned home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers,” Walorski’s chief of staff Tim Cummings said in a statement.
Walorski and her husband, Dean Swihart, 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.
Also killed in the crash were Zachery Potts, 27, of Mishawaka, Indiana; Emma Thomson, 28, of Washington, D.C.; and Edith Schmucker, 56, of Nappanee, Indiana, according to the sheriff’s office.
Cummings confirmed that Potts and Thomson were members of Walorski’s congressional staff. Thomson was Walorski’s communications director, while Potts was her district director and the Republican chairman for northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County.
Schmucker was driving the other car, according to the sheriff’s office. The crash, which occurred in a rural area near the town of Wakarusa, is still under investigation.
Walorski was seeking reelection this year to a sixth term in the solidly Republican district.
She was active on agriculture and food policy in Congress, often working across the aisle on those issues. A co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, she introduced legislation with Democrats to bring back a Nixon-era White House event on food insecurity.
President Joe Biden pointed to that work in a statement crediting Walorski for years of public service.
“We may have represented different parties and disagreed on many issues, but she was respected by members of both parties for her work,” Biden said. “My team and I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”
Indiana Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young said he was devastated by Walorski’s death.
“Jackie loved Hoosiers and devoted her life to fighting for them,” Young said in a statement. “I’ll never forget her spirit, her positive attitude, and most importantly her friendship. All of Indiana mourns her passing, along with the tragic deaths of her staff Emma Thomson and Zach Potts.”
A pro-life conservative, Walorski was a reliable Republican vote in Congress and in the Indiana House. She became a favorite of the conservative tea party movement.
Walorski lost a close 2010 congressional race to Democrat Joe Donnelly before narrowly winning the seat in 2012 as Donnelly made a successful run for the Senate. She had easily won her reelection campaigns since then.
Take a look at this video from just last year —
"This could be one of the most consequential votes I ever take," said Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (@RepWalorski) on Friday's "Wake Up America" about the "extreme" abortion bill up for a vote in the House. pic.twitter.com/UBHreEZVAU
— Newsmax (@newsmax) September 24, 2021
All of Indiana mourns her passing, along with the tragic deaths of her staff Emma Thomson and Zach Potts. Please join me in praying for their families in this difficult time.
— Senator Todd Young (@SenToddYoung) August 3, 2022
Dean Swihart, Jackie’s husband, was just informed by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s office that Jackie was killed in a car accident this afternoon. She has returned home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.
— Jackie Walorski (@RepWalorski) August 3, 2022
Colleagues of both parties have paid tribute to Walorski.
House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called her a “no-nonsense, straight shooter.” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Walorski “lived a life of service.”
“She passionately brought the voices of her north Indiana constituents to the Congress, and she was admired by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for her personal kindness,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Pelosi ordered the flags at the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-staff in Walorski’s honor. The White House said its flags would be lowered Wednesday and Thursday, and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a similar flag directive for the state.
“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, a Republican, said.
Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire said she and Walorski bonded as newly elected members of Congress in late 2012 over their husbands’ shared love of jazz music and became friends.
“I was proud to work with her on a variety of critical issues, including legislation to address the addiction crisis, end sexual violence, and help military sexual assault survivors access the care they need,” Kuster said.
Pete Buttigieg, as a native of Indiana and the U.S. secretary of transportation, offered his condolences to Walorski’s family after speaking out about traffic fatalities.
“I’m shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski,” Buttigieg tweeted. “My thoughts and prayers are with her family and the other victims of this terrible crash.”
Previously, Buttigieg had made traffic fatalities a key part of his tenure in the Transportation Department. In May, he announced the availability of money over five years under his department’s new Safe Streets & Roads for All program.
The aim was to provide a direct infusion of federal cash to communities that pledge to promote safety for the multiple users of a roadway, particularly pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as motorists.
“We face a national crisis of fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways, and these tragedies are preventable — so as a nation we must work urgently and collaboratively to save lives,” Buttigieg said, according to a May report from the Associated Press. “We have become far too accustomed to the loss of life and serious injuries happening on our roadways.”
The Transportation Department estimated that 42,915 people died on roadways in 2021. That number represents a 10.5 percent increase from the previous year’s estimate of 38,824. The spike began in 2019. The National Safety Council estimates that the death count has dipped from a peak in 2021 but that it remains higher than the numbers recorded in 2020.
Take a look at this 2016 video representing Walorski’s career —
— Molly Jirasek (@MollyTV_) November 9, 2016
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.