KNIGHTDALE, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Knightdale police officer died in a car crash on Interstate 540 early Sunday morning.
The crash happened around 2:40 a.m. on eastbound I-540 near the Buffaloe Road exit.
Officers, including Ryan Hayworth, 23, were investigating a single-car crash in the area when another car crashed into the back of the officers' patrol vehicle.
Hayworth, a three-month veteran of the force and former member of the US Army, was killed in the collision. Hayworth is the oldest son of retired Zebulon Police Chief Timothy Hayworth.
The other officer with Hayworth, officer Cody Hagler, was seriously injured. He was rushed to the hospital and is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Knightdale Police Chief Lawrence Capps found it difficult to put into words the sudden loss of Officer Hayworth, a man whose colleagues said in just three months embodied the essence of what it means to protect and serve.
"There's never been an individual who exemplified that value alignment the way that Ryan did," Chief Capps said. "From the moment that we first interacted we knew that there was something that was extraordinary about this young man. We knew through his service to this country that he was already deeply committed to people-to serving a cause and a purpose that was much bigger than himself."
The driver of the initial crash, as well as the driver (Dedric Romero Privette) who crashed into Hayworth and the other officer were both seriously injured.
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol is now investigating the crashes. Troopers said Privette was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol when he crashed, killing Hayworth and injuring Hagler.
Final charges are pending, awaiting the conclusion of the investigation.
Leah Quick and her two children know what this pain feels like. During a traffic stop in 2018, her husband and Lumberton police officer Jason Quick was killed in a roadside crash off I-95.
Soon after, legislators passed Senate Bill 29. The law stiffens penalties for drivers who injure or kill a first responder or utility worker.
Instead of 12 months, offenders could serve up to four years.
"We've been preaching it. Think before you get into a vehicle," said Quick.
On Sunday evening, flowers draped Hayworth's family's mailbox as they planned the 23-year-old's funeral.