To his family, Robert “Bobby” Horne Jr. was known as someone who would go out of his way to help others, even if it meant putting his own life at risk.
Over a decade ago, when Horne stopped on the side of a Maryland road to help another motorist, he was hit by a vehicle and landed in the hospital with broken bones, recalled his sister, Devonaline Horne.
“That would have been it for me, but it wasn’t it for him,” she said. “It has never, ever entered his mind not to pull over and see if anybody was hurt.”
“It was in his DNA,” she added.
For Horne, who lived in Washington County, it was “normal practice” to help others on the side of the road with blinking hazard lights or flat tires, his cousin Nicole Lane said.
Standing well over 6 feet tall, he was a “gentle giant, a hero of sorts,” she said.
Late in the evening of Sunday, Aug. 13, Horne attempted to assist someone on the roadside one final time. He pulled his 2007 Ford over on the southbound Interstate 395 ramp leading to I-95, where a 1994 Chevrolet had stopped partially in the left shoulder, according to the Maryland Transport Authority Police.
Horne, 50, died after being struck by an oncoming vehicle, the impact sending him over the barrier and into the water below. The agency said it still is investigating what happened that night.
“He died doing what he had done so many times, and if he knew the outcome, it wouldn’t have deterred him,” Devonaline, 51, said. “He would have done it again.”
A ‘loud, infectious laugh’
Still, Horne’s death has been “completely devastating,” said Lane, who lives in Virginia.
Growing up, Horne and Lane were “almost like siblings,” she said, spending time together at her grandparents’ home in Washington, D.C.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Horne moved to Washington and then Silver Spring when he was young, his relatives said. He lived with his mother, Nadine Heath, in Silver Spring after she and Robert Horne Sr., his father, divorced. He attended Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County.
Horne was prone to laughing at inopportune times, like when their mother burnt a meal, Devonaline recalled. Heath swung her purse at her son but he continued laughing until all of his lunch money for the next day had been rescinded.
“He had this loud, infectious laugh,” said Devonaline, a Montgomery County resident. “Even if you didn’t hear the joke, you wanted to laugh.”
He shared a passion for fishing with his father on trips to Solomons Island, said 75-year-old Horne Sr., who lives in Calvert County.
The Horne family is “tight-knit,” Lane explained, but as she and Horne grew older, spending time together wasn’t as easy as it had once been.
It was similar for Devonaline and her brother, who she called Bobby. She said their last phone conversation was the Friday before Horne was hit on I-395. The siblings spent nearly two hours laughing and reminiscing on their childhood shenanigans, she said.
“We just picked up where we left off,” said Devonaline, a public health analyst at the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
Devonaline was protective of her younger brother, but whenever she needed him, he would be there for her, she said, no matter the time of day.
“He just always wanted to protect and serve and assist and help,” she said.
Horne had dreams of becoming a police officer “ever since he was a little guy,” his aunt Deborah Carpenter said. Her husband, Anthony Carpenter, worked as a police officer in Massachusetts, where the couple lives and where Horne spent summers with them growing up.
Horne’s father served four years in the Marine Corps, which he said inspired his son to want to do the same. But a head-on car crash decades ago sent him down a different path, his family said.
“He had to learn how to walk and talk … all over again,” Devonaline said.
‘Selfless acts of service’
Since 2010, Horne had worked at the Baltimore Convention Center as a public safety officer, where he “exhibited selfless acts of service every day,” Executive Director Mac Campbell told The Baltimore Sun in a statement.
“Over the last 13 years, he has served with distinction — exhibiting an unmatched passion for ensuring the safety of our staff and visitors while simultaneously being the epitome of warmth and hospitality,” Campbell said. “May we all be as committed to our fellow man as [he] was.”
On Aug. 13, a Baltimore City Fire Department paramedic unit was already on the scene at I-395 to assist the disabled vehicle that Horne pulled over to help, fire department spokesperson Kevin Cartwright said.
When two oncoming vehicles collided and one struck Horne, sending him over the roadway barrier into the water, the fire department dispatched additional units, including a dive team.
Some members of the department’s Swift Water Rescue team responded even though they were off duty, Cartwright said. It took about 20 minutes for divers to discover Horne’s body and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Horne’s death has been ruled “an accident with multiple injuries complicated by drowning,” a spokesperson for the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told The Sun in an email.
Her brother “swam like a fish” and had won trophies and awards from swimming competitions, Devonaline said, making his death even harder to process.
“He couldn’t save himself,” she said, becoming emotional. “I just wish that somebody could have helped him the way he helped everybody else.”
Horne Sr. has had trouble sleeping and eating since his son’s death. But he said his son had a mentality of wanting to help people, no matter the situation.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” Horne Sr. said. “He would do just about anything for you.”
Horne is survived by his wife, Nicole Horne, and 19-year-old daughter, Kacy Horne.
“Bobby was their world, and they’re devastated,” Carpenter added.
The family is holding a funeral service for Horne on Monday, Aug. 21, at 11 a.m., with visitation from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Hagerstown Church of Christ. He was “a servant for the Lord,” Carpenter said, and his family remembers him as someone who also helped people through the church.
Horne remained humble, despite how much he did to help others, relatives said.
“He didn’t care about accolades. He didn’t care about recognition,” Devonaline said. “He just cared about people.”