Nadine Heath says it wasn’t unusual for her son, Bobby, to stop and ask motorists pulled over on the side of the road if they needed help.
With a sense of pride that only a mother who keeps a paper file of her son’s achievements can muster, she read from a letter that two strangers sent to her son’s employer back in 1994.
The writers wanted to thank Bobby for stopping to help them when they had a flat tire. They wanted his employer to know that hiring him had been a great decision.
“He [Bobby] told them that he was on his way to work, he’d talk to his boss and if he got the okay, he’d come back and help them,” said Heath, remembering that day nearly 30 years ago. “Well, he came back and he fixed it … he was so remarkable.”
Family members on Tuesday remembered the 6-foot-5 Horne as a gentle giant, a hilarious brother and a community-minded individual who was always helping others. Horne, 50, of Washington County, died Sunday night when he pulled his vehicle over on southbound Interstate 395 near downtown Baltimore to check on a disabled car, then was struck by another car and sent over the jersey wall into the water below.
Horne’s sister, Devonaline Horne of Montgomery County, said she will remember her brother as a “comedian” — someone who always made her laugh, including during their last conversation on Friday. The siblings spent nearly two hours on the phone joking and laughing.
“I want to be angry at him for putting his life at risk, but he wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Horne, getting emotional over the phone. “We take some comfort knowing he died doing what he loved to do — rendering aid and being there for someone else in a time of need.”
It wasn’t the first time that her brother was struck on the side of the road. Horne said that a similar event happened about 11 years ago — her brother stopped to ask if someone in a broken-down car needed any help, and he ended up getting hit by a passing vehicle. A couple of broken bones didn’t stop him from making the decision to pull over and step out of his car once again Sunday night.
Robert Taylor Horne Jr. was born in Memphis but moved with his family to Washington, D.C., when he was around 3 or 4 years old, his mother said. The family later moved to Silver Spring, where he lived until he got married and settled in Smithsburg, in Washington County.
He is survived by his wife of 24 years and by a 19-year-old daughter. They declined to talk through Horne’s sister.
As a teenager, Horne participated in Montgomery County’s Police Explorer program, which affords young people ages 14 to 20 a chance to learn about future careers in law enforcement. He wanted to be a police officer from a young age, said his mother, noting that her son won an award at the commencement for his 1990 explorer class.
“Since the age of 2, he wanted to be police — he’d ride around on his scooter making a siren sound,” said Heath.
A traffic accident, however, put his dream on hold, Heath recalled. He faced a lengthy recovery that kept him from becoming an officer. Her son would later work in private security, most recently at the Baltimore Convention Center, where he was employed at the time of his death.
Heath attributed her son’s “giving spirit” to Horne’s maternal grandfather and uncle. They would bring him to the nondenominational Christian Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., where Horne’s grandfather was an elder. Heath said her son developed his sense of service largely through the church, and he continued to participate in Bible studies at other Christian churches in Baltimore and Hagerstown at other times in his life.
The preliminary investigation of Sunday’s accident found that two vehicles — a 2017 Nissan Versa and a 2015 Mercedes — collided as they approached the disabled Chevrolet that Horne was checking on. The left shoulder is narrow, and authorities say the Chevy was partly on the shoulder and partly in a travel lane.
One of those vehicles struck Horne, the statement said, and the collision “inadvertently” caused him to fall over a barricade on the elevated highway and into the water below.
Dive team members from the Baltimore City Fire Department located Horne after a 15-minute search, according to Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the department. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Cartwright did not personally respond to the initial accident; he was called to the scene after Horne fell into the water. He said one medical unit was on the overpass when Horne arrived and attempted to assist. At least two medics would have been part of the unit.
“It’s a good thing to know that we have those types of civilians out there, who are willing to render aid to help someone in need,” Cartwright said. “However, we would encourage them to exercise extreme caution under circumstances like that. It was just so horrible that this gentleman extended his Samaritan spirit and lost his life.”
Cartwright referred questions about the collision and the events leading up to it to the Maryland Transportation Authority. As far as he knows, Cartwright said, none of the medics who responded to the first incident were injured.
A spokesperson for the Maryland Transportation Authority said Tuesday that the investigation was ongoing and declined to give further details.
Devonaline Horne said she was told by the MDTA that her brother saw a car with hazard lights flashing on the side of the road. That’s what made him pull over. He saw the car was empty, making him think someone might have fallen over the barrier into the water. Robert Horne was inspecting the area near the car for any signs of a person when he was struck.
“When he didn’t see anyone in the vehicle, he thought that maybe someone had gone over the bridge,” she said.
Though the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine his cause of death, Horne’s sister said that an initial report indicates that it was from drowning. She said that her brother “swam like a fish” when growing up, which makes the details of his death “add another layer of pain.”
As for her brother’s decision to stop at night, on an elevated interstate highway, she said, “He would do it again. He would have done it over and over and over again. It’s just who he was.”
Hugo Kugiya contributed to this report.
Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.