WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski was killed Wednesday in a car accident in her northern Indiana district along with two members of her congressional staff and one other person, police said.
The accident occurred around 12:30 pm when a car crossed the center line of a state highway and collided head-on with the pickup Walorski was traveling in, the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office said. Three people in the SUV, including 58-year-old Walorski, 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 legislature.
“She has come home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She will keep her family in her 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 poor 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, DC; 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 director of communications, while Potts was his district director and Republican chairman of St. Joseph County in northern Indiana.
Schmucker was driving the other car, according to the sheriff’s office. The accident, which occurred in a rural area near the city of Wakarusa, is still under investigation.
Walorski was seeking re-election this year to a sixth term in the solidly Republican district.
He was active in agricultural and food policy in Congress, often working across the aisle on those issues. Co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, she introduced legislation with Democrats to bring back a Nixon-era White House event on food insecurity.
US President Joe Biden noted that work in a statement crediting Walorski for years of public service.
“We may have represented different parties and not disagreed on many issues, but members of both parties respected her for her work,” Biden said. “My team and I appreciate your partnership as we plan a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health this fall that will be marked by your deep concern for the needs of rural America.”
Republican US Senator from Indiana Todd Young said he was devastated by Walorski’s death.
“Jackie loved the Hoosiers and dedicated her life to fighting for them,” Young said in a statement. “I will 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.”
Walorski was a reliable Republican vote in Congress, even against accepting electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania for Biden after the Capitol insurrection.
As a member of the Indiana House, Walorski pushed for anti-abortion legislation and opposed proposals to expand the game. 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 when Donnelly successfully ran for Senate. She had easily won her re-election campaigns ever since.
House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called Walorski a “no-nonsense straight shooter.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Walorski “lived a life of service.”
“She passionately brought the voices of her northern Indiana constituents to Congress, and her colleagues on both sides of the aisle admired her for her personal kindness,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Pelosi ordered that the flags in the US Capitol be flown at half-staff in Walorski’s honor. The White House said its flags would be lowered on Wednesday and Thursday, and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued a similar flag directive for the state.
“At all levels of public service, Jackie was known to be a positive force of nature, a patriot and a ruthless legislator with unwavering loyalty to her constituents,” said Holcomb, a Republican.
Democratic Congresswoman 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.