John J. Klocko III, a two-term Anne Arundel County Council member and father of three, died in a car crash Saturday in southern Utah. The longtime Crofton resident was 45.
County officials canceled yesterday's council meeting and put off questions regarding Mr. Klocko's replacement on the elected board, saying they were too distraught to discuss what action, if any, they could take to fill the seat before the Nov. 5 general election.
"It is shocking that he would be killed like this," said Robert P. Duckworth, clerk of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, who had known Mr. Klocko since he was a teen-ager attending Arundel High School. "He was in the prime of his life. He was cut short from his family, cut short from his community and cut short from a political future."
Flags were flown at half-staff at county offices in remembrance of Mr. Klocko, an attorney and business owner who was elected to the council in 1994 and re-elected in 1998. Mr. Klocko, a Republican who was barred by term limits from running again, had said that he was looking forward to spending more time with his daughters, ages 13 to 18, the eldest of whom is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Karen H. Klocko -- his wife of 22 years and a Crofton dentist who met him when they were undergraduates at the University of Maryland, College Park -- was visiting the couple's eldest daughter at college when she received news from Utah officials that her husband had been killed in a car accident.
Mr. Klocko, who had traveled to Utah to participate in a mountain-bike camp in Moab, was driving a rented 2002 Dodge Caravan north on Interstate 15 near Cedar City at 10:20 a.m. Saturday when the driver of a southbound 1993 Nissan Pathfinder apparently fell asleep at the wheel, police said. The Pathfinder veered into the gravel median, tipped and rolled before striking Klocko's Caravan.
Mr. Klocko, who was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, was pronounced dead at the scene, said Utah Highway Patrol Senior Trooper Larry W. Orton.
The driver of the Pathfinder, Victor J. Torres of Los Angeles, was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital. Drugs, alcohol and speed have been ruled out as potential causes of the accident, and Torres has not been charged, Mr. Orton said.
"For the people who knew him as a leader in the 7th District, I want them to know that he loved Anne Arundel County and he loved the issues associated with county government," Mrs. Klocko, 46, said of her husband, who earned a bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Maryland in 1978. He received his law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University in 1985.
In addition to his law practice, Mr. Klocko also was a partner in a company called ProCom, which provided management consulting to community associations.
Mr. Klocko's friends and council colleagues said they would remember him as a man who was dedicated to his faith, his family and his community.
"He was very strong in his faith in God, and he was very strong in his commitment to his family," said Council member Cathleen M. Vitale, a Republican from Severna Park. "He was so proud of his wife and his girls."
Mr. Klocko also was lauded for his efforts to organize communities in Crofton, a booming suburban area in western Anne Arundel County. He was founding president of the Greater Crofton Council, which today represents more than 20 neighborhood groups.
"When John founded the group, there were a large number of homeowner associations that had just recently been turned over by developers," said Bob Scott, current president of the council. "John had the idea to create an umbrella group that would represent all the associations in dealing with the county and state. ... He set the map for that, and it has worked well."
During his years on the council, Mr. Klocko was an outspoken legislator who didn't shy from public disputes. He was a frequent critic of Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Council Chairman Bill D. Burlison, elected officials with whom he disagreed on issues of fiscal management and legislative process.
He won plaudits for his fight to prevent development on a 150-acre rubble fill between Patuxent and Conway roads, a battle that continues, and for legislation to require "mega-churches" to gain special exception permits before building in rural areas.
Mr. Klocko also closed a loophole in a law meant to allow farmers to sell small parcels to family members, but which was being used for land sales to developers. Additionally, he supported restrictions on the proliferation of cellular telephone towers.
"John's integrity was remarkable," Mr. Duckworth said. "He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. People may not have agreed with him, but he was a man of principle."
The county charter states that the council must appoint someone to fill the seat within 30 days. But with less than four weeks to go before the Nov. 5 general election, it is unlikely that elected officials will make an appointment.
Candidates Edward R. Reilly, a Republican from Crofton, and Bill Rinehart, a Democrat from Harwood, are vying for control of the seat.
"I honestly don't know what the council intends to do, but they could just leave it vacant due to the election," said Terry R. Gilleland, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee.
A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, 1800 Seton Drive, Crofton.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Klocko is survived by three daughters, Caroline, 18, MaryKatherine, 15, and Elizabeth, 13.
Memorial donations may be sent to Philmont Scout Ranch, PR 1, Box 35, Cimarron, N.M. 87714.