Whitley County High School teacher and state Rep. Dewayne Bunch was critically injured Tuesday when he was knocked unconscious after trying to break up a fight between two students in the school cafeteria, authorities said.
Bunch was knocked down by a punch that appeared to be aimed at another student, Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell said. Bunch, 49, hit his head on a tile floor, the sheriff said.
"He ran over there very quickly and ran right into the punch," Harrell said. "When his head hit the floor, he sustained more injury."
Bunch was in "extremely critical" condition at Baptist Regional Medical Center in Corbin before being taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center in Lexington. A UK spokeswoman said Bunch's family had asked that no information be released about his condition.
Whitley County Schools held a moment of silence for Bunch.
"Our entire school district family remains in prayer for Dewayne and his family," said Superintendent Scott Paul.
The two boys involved in the fight, ages 15 and 16, were charged with three counts of assault, Harrell said.
Bunch, a Republican, was elected last fall, beating longtime legislator Charles Siler to represent Whitley County and part of Laurel County. He has taught math and science at Whitley County High School for 17 years.
Bunch's family released a statement to the news media Tuesday night, saying they "would like to express their appreciation for the overwhelming show of concern and support that has been offered not only by those in Whitley County, but across the entire commonwealth as well."
"We ask that you continue to keep Dewayne in your thoughts and prayers during the hours and days to come."
In the statement, the family also asked media representatives to "respect our family's privacy as we continue to deal with this difficult situation."
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo called it a sad day.
"I hope he will be able to recover from this horrific situation," Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement. "I enjoyed working with Dewayne when the General Assembly was in session and found him to be an excellent advocate for his constituents."
House Republican leader Jeff Hoover issued a statement on behalf of the House Republican caucus.
"We want to offer our thoughts and prayers for Rep. Bunch, his family, friends, co-workers, and constituents as we await further word on his condition and the prognosis on his recovery," the statement said.
"Dewayne is an outstanding legislator and is passionate about education, not only in his native Whitley County but the entire commonwealth."
A surveillance camera in the cafeteria that caught most of the fight showed Bunch being hit by the 16-year-old, the sheriff said.
Bunch was among three teachers who responded to the fight that broke out about 7:20 a.m. as breakfast was being served to dozens of students, the sheriff said. Bunch was the first teacher to reach the fight.
Each juvenile was charged with one count of first-degree assault and two counts of third-degree assault, the sheriff said. The boys were taken to a juvenile detention center in Eastern Kentucky.
The two boys kept fighting after Bunch was knocked unconscious, the sheriff said. The other two teachers were able to stop the fight. Neither the boys nor the other teachers required medical attention, he said.
No other students were involved.
Authorities don't know what sparked the fight, Harrell said.
"The problem was there before they got to the school," he said.
On his Facebook page, Bunch talked about his new role as a state lawmaker. He said he aspired to be "part of a new generation of politicians," with a focus on accountability and service. "I intend to work hard to make a difference in our state and district," he wrote.
Bunch spent more than 20 years in the Kentucky National Guard. His House biography said he served in Iraq as a first sergeant and earned numerous honors, including the Bronze Star.
He is a member of three House committees: education; labor and industry; and veterans, military affairs and public safety.
Associated Press writers Janet Cappiello, Dylan Lovan and Beth Campbell in Louisville and Herald-Leader reporter Dori Hjalmarson in Pikeville contributed to this report.