Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Former Dem Congressional Candidate, Wife, Son Killed in Car Wreck: Daytona Beach News-Journal

William McCullough, R.I.P.

Bill McCullough, family members killed in Ocala crash

Posted Jan 23, 2017 at 10:40 AM
Updated Jan 23, 2017 at 8:05 PM

By Patricio G. Balona

Bill McCullough, a former congressional candidate from DeLeon Springs, was killed along with his wife and one of his sons when an out-of-control tow truck slammed into his family's sport utility vehicle, troopers said.

McCullough, 61, his wife, Renee McCullough, 56, and son Ryan McCullough, 31, were killed Sunday in the Ocala wreck.

Friends, family and supporters gathered at the McCulloughs' home on Monday afternoon to comfort each other after learning of the tragic news. Aaron McCullough, the oldest of the family's two surviving sons, said it was too early in the grieving process to speak.

A family member who did not give her name said the McCulloughs, who have lived in DeLeon Springs for more than 30 years, were on their way back from celebrating Renee McCullough's birthday when the crash happened.

According to Florida Highway Patrol investigators, McCullough was driving east on State Road 326 in Ocala shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday in a GMC Envoy when the crash occurred.

Tow truck driver Travis Lee Johnson, 31, was westbound on S.R. 326 when he went off the road and onto the south shoulder, troopers said.

Johnson, of Ocala, traveled back onto S.R. 326 where his truck collided with the McCulloughs' SUV in the westbound lanes, according to the FHP. Both vehicles came to a rest on the north shoulder.

The McCulloughs were all wearing safety belts and Johnson wasn't, troopers said. The tow truck driver was taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center with serious injuries.

The McCullough family members were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which remains under investigation, troopers said.

The Marion County area was under alerts for storms around the time of the crash. FHP Public Affairs Officer Lt. Patrick Riordan said Monday that crash investigators said the weather and road conditions at the time of the crash were "cloudy and the road was wet," but added, "I don't know if the weather had an effect on the incident or not."

McCullough, an investment broker and professional arbitrator, had ideas about the federal government and economy that led him to seek office. Arguing that federal spending on transportation and other infrastructure projects would boost the economy, McCullough won the Democratic nomination for Congress in August, defeating three contenders including outgoing state Rep. Dwayne Taylor.

In November, incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Palm Coast Republican, defeated McCullough by a 59-41 margin. Still, McCullough earned more than 150,000 votes in the four counties District 6 reaches.

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McCullough and one of his Democratic opponents, George Pappas, got to know each other on the campaign trail. Pappas said he was "devastated" by the fatal crash.

"What a great guy ... a nice guy, and his wife, Renee, was a lot of fun," Pappas said. "We had a good time on the trail."

For a first-timer in politics, McCullough did extremely well at the polls, said Dana Dunmire, who worked as part of the candidate's campaign team.

"He was thoughtful and kind and very intellectual," a distraught Dunmire said. "He just didn't shake your hand and continued down the line but stopped to look at you and listen to you."

Jewel Dickson, the Volusia County Democratic Party chair, said she will remember McCullough's sense of humor, something they felt even when they were far away in Washington at the women's march last week.

"We got texts from him saying that he could see us in the crowd," Dickson said, getting emotional. "It's just devastating when you lose people that you really value."

McCullough thought he could give the congressional district the representation it needed, so he decided to run for office, Dunmire said.

"He was good to his community before he was a candidate but he was a great candidate who wanted to do what's best for people," Dunmire said.

Former Volusia County Councilman Andy Kelly, said McCullough was a friend who was very involved with his community and his church. He spent a lot of time talking to McCullough who called to ask him for advice after the DeLeon Springs resident decided to get into politics, Kelly said.

"He was a great family man, a friend," Kelly said. "He was someone who wanted to make a difference."

- Staff writers Katie Kustura and Mark Harper contributed to this story. This story includes information from Andy Fillmore, correspondent with the Ocala Star-Banner.

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