The car Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski was riding in whenwas what caused the crash when he swerved into oncoming traffic, contrary to initial reports that it was the other driver’s fault, authorities said.
The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office initially said a maroon Buick LeSabre headed south on State Road 19 crossed the center line and hit the Toyota RAV 4 in which Walorski and two deputies were heading north Wednesday afternoon.
But the sheriff’s office said Thursday morning that, based on new information, it had determined its preliminary findings were incorrect. It said additional evidence from eyewitnesses and video confirmed it was the RAV 4 that crossed into oncoming traffic “for currently unknown reasons”.
All three people in the RAV 4 — Walorski, 58; regional manager Zachery Potts, 27; and communications director Emma Thompson, 28 — died as a result of their injuries. The LeSabre’s driver and sole passenger — 56-year-old Edith Schmucker — also died in the crash.
Officials said all four were wearing seat belts and the vehicles’ airbags deployed.
The crash remains under investigation.
Walorski was elected to represent Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes South Bend, in 2012 after serving three terms in the state. She was the top Republican on the House Ethics Committee and also served on the Ways and Means Committee.
“She has returned home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement about Walorski’s death. “Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Tributes for Walorski quickly poured in from elected officials on both sides of the aisle and from members of Indiana’s congressional delegation.
Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means panel, said the congresswoman was “the ‘happy Hoosier’ who would light up a room with her joy, passion, sparkle and love of life.”
“There is nothing [Walorski] he couldn’t,” he he tweeted.
Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York; he said on Twitter she is “absolutely devastated” and “my heart goes out to the families of each of the victims,” while fellow Indiana Democrat Jim Banks praised Walorski as “a true public servant — selfless, humble and compassionate.”
“From my first day in Congress, Jackie has shown me kindness and grace,” he said in a statement. “He had a heart of gold and I will miss him dearly.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who also represented Indiana in the House before serving as the state’s governor from 2013 to 2017, said he and his wife are praying for Walorski’s family and the families of Potts and Thomson.
“She served Indiana in the State and in Congress with integrity and principle for nearly two decades and will be deeply missed,” he said in a pair of tweets.
Indiana Sen. Todd Young tweeted that he was “truly devastated” by Walorski’s death and said she “loved Hoosiers and dedicated her life to fighting for them. I will never forget her spirit, her positive attitude and especially her friendship”.