Former Republican state lawmaker De wayne Bunch, who suffered a severe head injury last year while trying to break up a fight at Whitley County High School in Williamsburg, where he was a teacher, died Wednesday afternoon.
Bunch, 50, resigned from the legislature after being critically injured in April 2011. He was trying to stop a fight between two students as breakfast was being served at the school, where he had taught math and science for 17 years.
Bunch's wife, Regina Bunch, was the only candidate from either party to seek his seat in a special election. She now represents the 82nd District, which includes Whitley County and part of Laurel County.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Regina, her family and all those who knew and loved Dewayne as they deal with his passing," members of the House Republican caucus said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
Following a tumultuous year for Dewayne Bunch and his family, it was unclear Wednesday what led to his death. Bunch spent time at a rehabilitation center in Atlanta, where he was showing signs of recovery, according to a Facebook page dedicated to him.
In May 2011, Regina Bunch issued a statement through the Shepherd Center in Atlanta that said doctors were hopeful that he would regain "80 percent of everything he had." She said he was able to communicate, was regaining movement in his arms and was able to hug and kiss his family.
However, the "Pray for Dewayne Bunch and his family" Facebook group, which had more than 5,000 followers, began posting frequent calls for prayer June 24. The last update, posted Sunday, said "please say a prayer for De wayne. Today him and his family need strength."
Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell said Bunch died Wednesday at Oak Tree Hospital, a long-term care center under the umbrella of Baptist Regional Medical Center, in Corbin.
Bunch, who spent more than 20 years in the Kentucky National Guard, was elected in fall 2010 after defeating a longtime Republican legislator in the primary. Bunch served in Iraq as a first sergeant and earned numerous honors, including the Bronze Star, according to his House biography.
Many of Bunch's colleagues and friends offered condolences Wednesday evening.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, expressed sympathy to Bunch's family on behalf of the entire House.
"Dewayne showed tremendous potential as a legislator, and his wife Regina has done an outstanding job in serving the remainder of his term," Stumbo said in a written statement.
Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane Beshear, also issued a statement that praised Bunch's service to Kentucky and expressed sorrow at his passing.
"In his time with us in Frankfort, he shared many of our goals for a better Kentucky, especially in improving education," Beshear said. "He was a dedicated teacher and legislator, and he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, particularly his wife, Regina, who is serving admirably in her husband's position as state legislator."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Dewayne Bunch served Whitley and Laurel counties with distinction. "He also proudly served our country in Iraq as a member of the Kentucky National Guard. Elaine (Chao, McConnell's wife) and I send our condolences to his wife, Regina, his family and all those at Whitley County High School that knew and loved him."
Fifteen months ago, Bunch was knocked unconscious after being punched and falling to the cafeteria floor, hitting his head on the tile. He was trying to break up a fight between two boys who were 15 and 16 at the time.
The teens were charged with one count each of first-degree assault and two counts of third-degree assault. The status of their cases was not clear Wednesday because juvenile cases are not considered public records under Kentucky law, unless the juveniles are charged as adults. Juveniles may be charged as adults in exceedingly violent and gun-related crimes, or if they have had prior felony convictions.
Harrell referred comments about the case to the commonwealth's attorney's office. Prosecutors said they couldn't talk about it because of confidentiality laws.
"I cannot comment as to whether there's even a juvenile case pending," Whitley County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Stephens said.
Depending on a range of factors, charges in assault cases are typically upgraded to reckless homicide, manslaughter or murder if the victim dies from his or her injuries, but the cause of Bunch's death was not immediately known Wednesday.
Whitley County Coroner Andy Croley would not comment. He said the coroner's office did not handle Bunch's case because Bunch died in a hospital. However, Croley Funeral Home, which Croley co-owns, was handling the funeral arrangements, which were pending.
"At this time we just need to let the family mourn," Croley said.
Herald-Leader reporter Josh Kegley contributed to this article. Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793.Twitter: @BGPolitics.Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.