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Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski's SUV veered into oncoming traffic before deadly crash

Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, 3 others killed in crash
Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, 3 others killed in crash 01:42

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The car Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski was riding in when she and three others died caused the deadly crash after veering into oncoming traffic, contrary to initial reports that it was the other driver at fault, authorities said.

The Elkhart County Sheriff's Office originally said a maroon Buick LeSabre headed south on State Road 19 crossed the centerline, and hit the Toyota RAV 4 in which Walorski and two aides were heading north on SR 19 on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday morning, the sheriff's office said, based on new information, it determined its preliminary findings were not correct, and that additional eyewitness and video evidence confirmed it was the RAV 4 which crossed into oncoming traffic "for reasons that are unknown at this time."

All three people in the RAV 4 — Walorski, 58; her district director Zachery Potts, 27; and communications director Emma Thomson, 28 — died as a result of their injuries. The driver and sole occupant of the LeSabre — 56-year-old Edith Schmucker — also died in the crash.

Officials said all four people were wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, and the vehicles' airbags did deploy.

The crash remains under investigation, and the Elkhart County Sheriff is asking any witnesses to contact them at (574) 891-2100.

Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on legislation that would increase the accountability of the Veterans Affairs Department, on April 3, 2014. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Walorski was elected to represent Indiana's 2nd Congressional District, which includes South Bend, in 2012 after serving three terms in the statehouse. She was the top Republican on the House Ethics Committee, and 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 on 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 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, brilliance and love of life."

"There is nothing [Walorski] couldn't do," he tweeted.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said on Twitter she is "absolutely heartbroken," and "my heart goes out to the families of each of the victims," while fellow Indiana Rep. Jim Banks praised Walorski as a "true public servant — selfless, humble, and compassionate."

"From my first day in Congress, Jackie showed me kindness and grace," he said in a statement. "She had a heart of gold, and I will miss her 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 statehouse and the 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 is "truly devastated" by Walorski's death and said she "loved Hoosiers and devoted her life to fighting for them. I'll never forget her spirit, her positive attitude, and most importantly her friendship."

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