Indiana News

US Rep. Walorski among 4 killed in northern Indiana crash

WAKARUSA, Ind. (WISH) — U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, an Indiana Republican, died in a crash Wednesday afternoon in northern Indiana, according to the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office.

The South Bend native who lived near Elkhart had served Indiana in Congress since 2013.

Two others with Walorski also died in the crash: the St. Joseph County Republican chair, Zachery Potts, 27, of Mishawaka, and Walorski’s communications director, Emma Thomson, 28, of Washington, D.C.

Walorski died two weeks ahead of her 59th birthday.

The sheriff’s office said another driver in the crash, Edith Schmucker, 56, of Nappanee, also died in the crash just after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday on State Road 19 south of State Road 119, which is south of Wakarusa. That’s a town of about 2,000 located 10 miles southeast of South Bend.

The sheriff’s office says Schmucker was northbound on State Road 19 when her car, in which she was the only passenger, went across the centerline and collided with a southbound SUV with Walorski, Potts and Thompson inside.

Walorski had served on the House Ways and Means Committee. She was the top-ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee.

Walorski had served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 2005 to 2009. She also had worked as a television reporter and nonprofit director before joining Congress. From 2000 to 2004, she and her husband had lived in Romania as Christian missionaries.

She is survived by her husband, Dean Swihart. They were married in 1995. A professional saxophone player, he is a teacher at a Mishawaka elementary school.

Kyle Hupner, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, said in a videoconference on News 8 at 6 p.m., “I mean, the tragedy of this accident with Jackie and Zach and Emma is just, you know, it’s hard to quantify. I mean it’s going to leave a huge gap in so many lives and so many efforts that all three were involved in that you really can’t measure it.”

Asked what Walorski’s legacy would be, Hupner told News 8, “I think from those who had the privilege of working with her, as I did — and I got the opportunity to introduce her on numerous occasions — I would always say that I looked to her for an example of a fighter for what she believed in, and I think that’s how she’ll be remembered. I mean she had so many causes that she was passionate about, but none more than the folks that lived in her congressional district and, you know, her and her husband had been missionaries and she just was always a servant leader to others. But, you knew where Jackie stood on issues. She was certainly not afraid to tell you, and then she fought for what she believed in.”

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.”

Walorski was a reliable Republican vote in Congress, including against accepting the Arizona and Pennsylvania electoral votes for Biden following the Capitol insurrection.

As a member of the Indiana House, Walorski opposed gambling expansion proposals and pushed anti-abortion legislation.

When the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had ruled that the U.S. Constitution conferred the right to have an abortion, Walorski said in a statement, “Our prayers have been answered. By rightfully restoring power to the states, the Supreme Court has affirmed the inalienable right to life. As our mission moves to the states, we will not grow weary in doing good. Our commitment to life will march on. As one of the most pro-life states in the nation, Indiana will lead the way in defending the vulnerable, uplifting women and families, and ensuring every child has the chance to achieve the American Dream. Our enduring commitment to life will prevail.”

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.

Gov. Eric J. Holcomb, the Republican governor of Indiana, has directed flags to be flown at half-staff in Walorski’s honor until her burial. No funeral services have yet been announced.

Walorski had been seeking reelection this year to a sixth term in the solidly Republican district. Holcomb will need to call a date for a special election for 2nd Congressional District voters to fill Walorski’s vacant seat. The district includes all or parts of these counties: Elkhart, Fulton, Kosciusko, LaPorte, Marshall, Miami, Pulaski, Starke, St. Joseph and Wabash.

Candidates can be from any political party. The candidates must be 25 years old when taking office, have been U.S. citizens for at least seven years, and be inhabitants of Indiana at the time of the election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, ordered the flags at the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-staff in Walorski’s honor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Statements

“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana.

“Born in her beloved South Bend as the daughter of a meat-cutter and firefighter, she spent a lifetime serving the community that she grew up in – as a journalist, a nonprofit director, a state legislator, and eventually as a Member of Congress for the past nine and half years.

“We may have represented different parties and disagreed on many issues, but she was respected by members of both parties for her work on the House Ways and Means Committee on which she served. She also served as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, and 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.

“We send our deepest condolences to her husband, Dean, to the families of her staff members, Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson, who lost their lives in public service, and to the people of Indiana’s Second District who lost a representative who was one of their own.”

President Joe Biden, a Democrat

“It is with a heavy heart that I am sharing this statement from the Office of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski: ‘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. We will have no further comment at this time.’”

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarty, a Republican from California

“Today, the United States House of Representatives sadly mourns the sudden and tragic passing of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski.

“A lifelong Hoosier, Congresswoman Walorski lived a life of service: whether caring for impoverished children in Romania, representing her community in the Indiana Statehouse or serving nearly a decade in the House.  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.

“Our Congressional community also mourns the loss of two devoted members of her staff, Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson.  May it be a comfort to Jackie’s husband and partner in service, Dean, the entire Walorski family, the families of all the victims and the office of Indiana’s Second Congressional District that so many join them in mourning and are praying for them at this sad time.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California

“God took a special angel home today.

“Jackie was the ‘happy Hoosier’ who would light up a room with her joy, passion, brilliance & love of life.

“There is nothing @RepWalorski couldn’t do. We are all shocked, heartbroken – yet grateful to count her as a friend.

“#GodsArms

“Jackie was always so proud of her team — she couldn’t say enough about them.

“Losing Zach Potts & Emma Thomson today — young people doing great things for Indiana & our nation — just makes it all even harder.

“Their loved ones are in our prayers, as is Jackie’s beloved Dean.”

Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas, minority ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee on which Walorski served

“Devastated to hear the horrible news of the passing of Jackie Walorski and her two staffers. She was a dear friend who loved serving the people of Indiana in Congress. My prayers are with her loving husband Dean, the rest of her family, and the families of the two staffers.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana

“Ann and I are heartbroken over the news of Rep. Jackie Walorski’s tragic death. Jackie was a wonderful colleague and a woman of strong faith. She will be missed.

“My prayers are with Jackie’s family and with the families of her staff members who also passed away in the crash.”

Rep. Gary Palmer, chair of the House Republican Policy Committee, from Alabama

“Hoosiers everywhere mourn the loss of Rep. Jackie Walorski and her staffers Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson. Condolences to their families.”

Ronald Klain, White House chief of staff and a native of Indianapolis

“I am devastated to learn of the passing of my good friend, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. She was an incredible public servant for Hoosiers and leader within the Republican Party. The entire Republican National Committee is praying for her family, as well as the families of the two staff who were also tragically killed.”

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee

“My heart is broken for Dean, the Walorski family, and all who knew and loved my friend Jackie. Jackie was a true public servant –selfless, humble, and compassionate. She was a devout Christian, a passionate advocate for life, and a leader among Hoosier representatives. Everything Jackie did was to serve others. Before Congress, she served in the Indiana Statehouse and she and her husband served as missionaries in Romania where they provided impoverished children food and medical care. From my first day in Congress, Jackie showed me kindness and grace. She had a heart of gold, and I will miss her dearly. Please join Amanda and I in praying for Jackie’s loved ones and the friends and family of her two staff members who also lost their lives in this tragic accident.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana

My heart is heavy with the news from northern Indiana. Jackie was a true friend & an incredible colleague. Hoosiers have lost a champion & dedicated public servant. Danise’s & my prayers are with the Walorski family, as well as the families of the two staff members who passed.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Baird, a Republican from Indiana

“Denise and I, and our whole team are deeply saddened to hear the tragic news of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski’s passing.

“She was a dear friend and trusted mentor who always had serving Hoosiers at the top of her mind. She worked tirelessly on behalf of the community she loved, and words cannot describe what a tremendous loss this is for the State of Indiana and our Nation.

“I ask everyone to join me in praying for the Congresswoman’s family, friends, staff and those she served during this difficult time.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Pence, a Republican from Indiana

“I am heartbroken to hear of the untimely passing of my colleague, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, two of her Senior Staffers and others who passed today in an automobile crash in Northern Indiana.

“I, along with all Hoosiers are devastated by this loss. I am praying for the families, the staff and constituents of the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana.”

U.S. Rep. André Carson, a Democrat from Indiana

“I’m truly devastated. Jackie loved Hoosiers and devoted her life to fighting for them. 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. Please join me in praying for their families in this difficult time.”

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana

“Jackie Walorski was a tireless advocate for the Hoosiers she represented and a kind friend to everyone she met. She faithfully served her constituents and her Lord and Savior, and I trust she is now wrapped in the arms of Christ. This is a devastating loss, and we grieve for her two staff members – Zach and Emma – who had their whole lives ahead of them. Please join me and Maureen in praying for the families and friends of those lost on this tragic day for Indiana.”

U.S. Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana

“.@KarenPence and I are heartbroken by the tragic passing of our dear friend Rep. Jackie Walorski. 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.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana

“My heartfelt condolences to my colleague Rep. Jackie Walorski’s family and to the other victims’ families involved in this horrific car accident. And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ – Luke 23:43”

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Republican from Georgia

“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. At every level of public service Jackie was known to be a positive force of nature, a patriot, and a relentless policy maker with an unwavering loyalty to her constituents. Jackie’s record of achievement is impossible to quantify. She 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. Every waking moment for her was energetically devoted to improving the lives of all Hoosiers better, the epitome of a good and faithful servant. She, and the example she set, will be missed every day forward.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican

“I was shocked and heartbroken when I received the news today about the tragic death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. Jackie and I served together in the Indiana House of Representatives, and she was a fighter for her constituents and conservative Hoosier values. My heart goes out to her husband, Dean, and the rest of her family and friends. She will be deeply missed.”

Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, a Republican

“I am shocked and devastated to learn of the deaths of Congresswoman Walorski and those who were involved in the tragic car accident this afternoon. Congresswoman Walorski was a ferocious advocate for her constituents and cared deeply about making Indiana and our country a better place for all of us. I know my family, and my colleagues here at the Statehouse, will be grieving alongside her loved ones and constituents.”

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, a Republican from Martinsville

“My condolences go out to the family and loved ones of U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, her Communications Director Emma Thompson and St. Joseph County Republican Party Chairman Zachery Potts. I send my thoughts and prayers to find peace during this heartbreaking time.”

State Rep. Maureen Bauer, a Democrat from South Bend

“Jackie Walorski was a woman who stood strong in her values, cared for her family, and served Hoosiers well. I have many great memories and stories of our time together in Congress and on the campaign trail. In addition to everything else, she had a great sense of humor. She will be missed. Our sympathies also go out to the families of Zach Potts and Emma Thomson who died in the same tragic accident. Hoosiers across the state mourn the loss of these public servants.”

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican

“I am deeply saddened by the tragic passing of our Representative Jackie Walorski, as well as her Communications Director Emma Thomson and District Director Zachery Potts. Serving in Congress since 2013, Jackie was a force to be reckoned with and represented our community with passion and conviction. Today our community lost a dedicated public servant.”

South Bend Mayor James Mueller

“It is with great sadness that I learned of the tragic event and recent passing of Representative Jackie Walorski. On behalf of all the Citizens of Mishawaka, Jamie and I send our deepest condolences to her husband Dean and Representative Walorski’s family and the people of the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana during this difficult time. The City of Mishawaka and our Citizens mourn with you and together we commemorate the extraordinary life of this remarkable woman who devoted her life to serving and protecting a strong democracy as well as individual freedom and liberty.”

Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood, a Republican

“Baugo Community Schools extend our sincere condolences to the families of Congresswomen Jackie Walorski and her aides Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson who perished today in a traffic accident.”

Byron Sanders, superintendent of Baugo Community Schools

“There could not be worse news. I’m heartsick at this tragedy. Jackie Walorski was a great public servant, a brave and constant ally for change during all my years in elected office, and a great representative of her district at both the state and national levels. I can’t say how much I’ll miss her.”

Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and a former Republican governor of Indiana

“The University community deeply mourns the tragic passing of U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Walorsk. She was always a gracious and welcoming supporter of Notre Dame students in Washington, D.C., and frequently invited our faculty to testify on issues before Congress.

“Congresswoman Walorski was also an advocate and supporter of key initiatives on campus, including the Notre Dame Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities and its important work of building evidence and data to strengthen anti-poverty intervention programs.

“We pray for her and the other accident victims and their families, including Jackie’s husband, Dean. May God welcome them into eternal rest and give comfort to those who grieve their loss.”

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of University of Notre Dame

“I am shocked and very saddened by the sudden passing of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski and her two staffers, Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson, in a car accident today in Elkhart County.

“Congresswoman Walorski was such a pleasure to work with – both in her tenure at the Indiana Statehouse and in Congress. She always fought hard for her constituents and was a trusted ally in advocating for policies to better the lives of Hoosiers. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce sends its sincere condolences to the Congresswoman’s family and the families of all lost today.”

Kevin Brinegar, president and chief executive officer of Indiana Chamber

“Horrible news. Condolences to the families involved. Representative Jackie Walorski was a friend of Indiana law enforcement. She was always kind the few times I interacted with her. Big loss for Indiana and our country.”

Indiana State Police Sgt. Tony Slocum, public information officer for the Peru district