WELLINGTON TWP. — A head-on collision on state Route 58 killed two people Sunday afternoon.
Mark Horton, a Sheffield Township resident and a retired member of the Elyria Fire Department, was killed in a head-on collision at 1:28 p.m. while he was traveling southbound on Route 58 just south of Jones Road in his Dodge Caravan.
Cody Wallace, 21, of New London, also was killed in the crash. The Ohio Highway Patrol said Wallace was traveling northbound on Route 58 in a Ford Fusion and veered left of center.
The patrol said drug and phone use on the part of Wallace are suspected as factors in the crash, which is under investigation.
Both men were trapped in their vehicles and pronounced dead at the scene. Horton was wearing a seat belt, but Wallace was not, according to the report.
Horton, 64, was a union president for more than 20 years and took that job very seriously, according to his colleagues.
“If he felt his members were being treated unfairly, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to try and make it right,” fire Capt. Joe Pronesti said. “It didn’t matter if you had issues with him, but if there was something you needed on the job he made it happen.”
That’s one of the reasons Horton’s death Sunday is so hard, Pronesti said.
“I’ve known him practically my whole life,” Pronesti said. “He worked in the fire department with my dad and then when I joined, he really took me under his wings. It’s a huge loss.”
Dean Marks, president of Elyria Firefighters Local 474, said he also felt Horton mentored him, especially when he took over union leadership.
“I think there was one person who served between our terms,” Marks said. “But I had huge shoes to fill, and he still worked hand in hand with me. I mean, he trained a lot of us and still wanted to make sure we were doing OK. I even called him a couple of days ago to get his advice on something.”
Marks said Horton was lighthearted on a job that can have its stressors.
“We see a lot of stuff like this on the job, but you never expect it to be one of your own,” he said. “I’m still in shock over the whole thing.”
Elyria Fire Chief Richard Benton said he was having a hard time trying to digest the news. He said Horton, who retired about 2009, did a lot for the department during difficult times.
“When we were going through the recession, he did a lot to get us SAFER grants to make sure we had adequate staffing levels,” Benton said. “He was a great guy and, I mean, he was in great health. I just saw him.”
Pronesti said Horton was respected across the state in the firefighter community, in part because of his role as secretary-treasurer of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters.
“He had a huge role in getting Senate Bill 27 passed,” Pronesti said. “There were a lot of firefighters he worked with, people in my dad’s generation, that suffered from cancer they got from working on the job, and Mark helped to get it recognized as an occupational hazard.”
Senate Bill 27, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law Jan. 4, provides workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters whose cancer was related to exposure to carcinogens as part of their profession.
In a statement, Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters President Michael Taylor said Horton was on his way to an International Association of Fire Fighters training seminar when he was killed.
“Mark was a tireless advocate for our profession,” Taylor said in the statement. “His leadership was essential as we fought some of the biggest battles our organization has ever faced. Senate Bill 5, pension protection and cancer presumption are just some of the victories that we accomplished during Mark’s tenure as secretary/treasurer. More than that, Mark was my friend whose counsel I valued.”
Taylor asked that people keep Horton’s wife, Barbara, and his family in their thoughts and prayers.
Marks said service dates and times are being arranged but because of Horton’s relationships throughout the state, the service likely will be large.
“Mark was a damn good fireman,” Pronesti said.