WASHINGTON — Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., and two of her staffers were killed in a car crash on Wednesday, authorities said. Walorski was 58.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy first confirmed Walorski's death in a tweet earlier Wednesday.
McCarthy said he spoke to Walorski's husband, Dean Swihart, who was informed of her death by the Elkhart County Sheriff's office on Wednesday afternoon.
"This news is absolutely devastating," McCarthy said in a statement. "Jackie was a dear friend, trusted advisor, and the embodiment of integrity who achieved the admiration and respect of all her colleagues in the House."
Walorski District Director Zachery Potts, 27, and her Communications Director Emma Thomson, 28, also died in the two-car collision. Their deaths were confirmed by the sheriff's office in a Facebook post. The driver of the other car was also killed.
The sheriff's office initially said the other vehicle caused the crash. But on Thursday the department released another statement saying that "eyewitness and video evidence" confirmed that Walorski's vehicle "crossed the centerline for reasons that are unknown at this time and the two vehicles collided." Potts was driving, according to the department.
"All occupants of both vehicles were confirmed to have been wearing seatbelts and airbags did deploy," the department said. The investigation is ongoing.
“Devastated to hear the horrible news of the passing of Jackie Walorski and her two staffers,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., tweeted. “She was a dear friend who loved serving the people of Indiana in Congress.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was traveling in Asia, ordered the flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff in honor of Walorski and her staffers, her spokesman said.
“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," Pelosi said in a statement. "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."
The White House said it will fly flags at half-staff on Wednesday and Thursday in memory of Walorski.
President Joe Biden offered his condolences in a statement Wednesday, saying that he and first lady Jill Biden were "shocked and saddened" when they heard about the car crash.
"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," Biden said of Walorski. He cited her work as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus and said that the White House's conference on that topic next month would be "marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America."
A former Indiana state lawmaker, Walorski was first elected to Congress in 2012 and was running for her sixth term this fall. She was well-liked by her Republican and Democratic colleagues in the House, where she was close to McCarthy and his leadership team.
McCarthy named her the top Republican on the House Ethics Committee, and she was set to be chairman of the bipartisan committee if Republicans won the majority in November.
“When there was a vacancy for Republican leader of the Ethics Committee, she was my first call," McCarthy said in a statement. "Everyone who knew Jackie knows she was tough, but fair — a no nonsense, straight shooter who knew that Congress must reflect the will of the people with decency and honesty."
Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Deutch, D-Fla., worked closely with Walorski on a weekly basis, as their panel met to provide ethics training and investigate any violations of House rules by lawmakers or their aides.
“As partisan as Congress has become, it is still a family, and this loss hits close to home," Deutch said in a statement. "Jackie Walorski was a colleague and a friend. She cared deeply about the House and about her constituents, and she will be dearly missed by all of us."
Many of her colleagues in the Indiana delegation also tweeted their sympathies shortly after her death was announced.
"I’m truly devastated. Jackie loved Hoosiers and devoted her life to fighting for them," tweeted Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who had served with Walorski in the House. "I’ll never forget her spirit, her positive attitude, and most importantly her friendship."
"My heart is heavy with the news from northern Indiana. Jackie was a true friend & an incredible colleague," tweeted Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind. "Hoosiers have lost a champion & dedicated public servant."
CLARIFICATION (Aug. 4, 2022, 12:25 p.m. ET): This article has been updated to reflect new information from the sheriff’s office. Walorski’s car, driven by a staffer, was the one that “crossed the centerline for reasons that are unknown at this time,” the sheriff’s office said Thursday. On Wednesday, after the crash, the office said it believed that it was the other car that had crossed over.