Former state Sen. Greg Evers killed in car crash

A former Florida state senator was involved in a fatal crash near his home.

Community members, colleagues and opponents of former state Sen. Greg Evers came together Tuesday afternoon to mourn the loss of a man known for being a champion of the Panhandle.

Evers was killed in a single-vehicle wreck in Okaloosa County on Monday evening after failing to negotiate a curve on Griffith Mill Road, according to Florida Highway Patrol. Evers' car was found submerged in a roadside creek late Tuesday afternoon.

As news of Evers' death broke on Tuesday, those who worked alongside the stalwart Republican expressed shock and grief.

"I'm crushed," said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. "Greg has been my friend for 16 years. Florida lost a great public servant and a champion for our community."

Evers, who was born in Milton in 1955,  graduated from what is now Pensacola State College. He was 62 when he died.

The folksy Baker strawberry farmer served in the House of Representatives from 2000 to 2010, before serving in the state Senate from 2010 to 2016. He represented Florida's Second District in the Senate, which includes Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. A Panhandle fixture, Evers was a heavy supporter of Second Amendment rights and smaller government.

The National Rifle Association's renowned longtime lobbyist Marion Hammer called Evers a "true gentleman and one of the most honorable men I have ever known."

“He stood up for what he believed and was loyal to his friends," she said. "He was more than just someone you work with on a project, he made you his friend. He was a dear friend."

Evers left his Senate seat in 2016 for an unsuccessful congressional run against then-state Rep. Matt Gaetz. Evers’ campaign made national headlines when he launched a giveaway of a Homeland Defender AR-15 assault-style rifle, in response to the June 2016 mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that killed 49 people.

"With terrorism incidents on the rise, both at home and abroad, protecting our constitutional rights has never been more important," Evers wrote in a release provided by his campaign. "With all that's happening in the world today, I've never felt stronger about the importance of the Second Amendment in protecting our homeland than I do now."

Former Senate President Don Gaetz, who served with Evers in the state Senate, said the late lawmaker always looked at issues through the eyes of the average person when he spoke on the floor of the Senate or in committee.

"He and I disagreed sometimes - we agreed most - but he was always an encouraging friend," he said. "He was a man's man. He was tough, he really was a farmer, and if he was your friend, he would do anything for you."

State Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said he was "shocked" at the news of Evers' death.

"I just always thought he did a good job representing the rural communities," he said. "It's kind of hard for most of us to understand what it's like to be a farmer and advocate for agricultural issues, because we never tilled soil or raised cows. But Greg was able to do that. He did it first-hand and that was his job. That will probably be something that is missed in the legislative process."

In 2015, Evers was tasked with writing legislation to curb a rising number of inmate deaths in Florida’s corrections system. He conducted a series of surprise, after-hours visits to state prisons to assess the situations there firsthand. He ultimately helped draft a prison reform bill calling for an independent board to oversee the state’s prison system. The bill ultimately died on the House floor, but Gov. Rick Scott wound up folding some of the suggestions into a later executive order.

Evers, the former chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, continued advocating for smart and safe criminal justice reform after his retirement from government.

He supported a work release program in Santa Rosa County, and, in his most recent role as chief of political affairs for South Palafox Group, he spearheaded an effort to create affordable housing for ex-offenders in Pensacola.

Most recently, Evers led the movement to keep the 34-foot tall cross in Bayview Park in Pensacola after the city was ordered in June to take the cross down following a federal lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanists Association. The organizations, on behalf of four Pensacola residents, asked that the cross be removed from the park because it violated the separation of church and state.

Evers formed The Historic Preservation Society Inc. days after the judgement in what he said was an effort to “preserve historic monuments that are threatened with destruction.” The nonprofit group, of which Evers was chairman, offered to lease the land where the cross stands and thereby remove it from city ownership.

Update 5:35 p.m.:

As news of former Florida Sen. Greg Evers' death broke on Tuesday, lawmakers and other officials who worked alongside the stalwart Republican expressed shock and grief.

"I'm crushed," said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. "Greg has been my friend for 16 years. Florida lost a great public servant and a champion for our community."

Evers was killed in a single-vehicle wreck in Okaloosa County on Monday evening, according to Florida Highway Patrol. He was 62.

More: Greg Evers death: What we know now

Evers served in the state House for 10 years from 2000 to 2010, before serving in the state Senate from 2010 to 2016. He represented Florida's Second District in the Senate, which includes Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Most recently, after a federal court ordered the removal of a 34-foot cross from Pensacola’s Bayview Park, Evers, serving as chair of The Historic Preservation Society Inc., offered to lease the cross from the city to keep in an effort to keep the monument standing.

State Rep. Jayer Williamson said people will remember Evers as "a good man and a good public advocate and servant for northwest Florida."

"I actually just saw him last month," said Williamson, who represents District 3, which serves most of Santa Rosa County and north Okaloosa County. "I took the children out to his strawberry farm to pick strawberries. It was good to see him and talk about the session we just had this past year. He will certainly be missed."

Pensacola attorney and former state Rep. Jim Reeves recalled losing to Evers in an open House race nearly 20 years ago.

"It's tragic news. When I tried to make my comeback in politics, the guy who whipped my ass was Greg Evers," Reeves said.

The National Rifle Association's renown longtime lobbyist Marion Hammer called Evers a "true gentleman and one of the most honorable men I have ever known."

He stood up for what he believed and was loyal to his friends," she said. "He was more than just someone you work with on a project, he made you his friend. He was a dear friend."

Update 5:20 p.m.:

Sen. Joe Negron, president of the Florida Senate, issued a memo to all senators this afternoon notifying them about the death of former lawmaker, Greg Evers.

The former lawmaker, who represented parts of Northwest Florida, died after authorities said he drove off of Griffith Mill Road in Okaloosa County near Baker sometime late Monday. He was 62.

Evers served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2010, before serving in the Florida State Senate from 2010 to 2016.

"Greg passionately represented his district for many years in both the House and Senate," the statement reads. "He was especially dedicated to the men and women of his community who were serving or had served in the military, as well as our fellow Floridians across the state who serve as Corrections Officers."

Evers, the former chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, continued advocating for smart and safe criminal justice reform after his retirement for government.

He supported a work release program in Santa Rosa County, and, in his most recent role as Chief of Political Affairs for South Palafox Group, he spearheaded an effort to create affordable housing for ex-offenders in Pensacola.

Update 5:15 p.m.:

Lt. Eddie Elmore of the Florida Highway Patrol was at the site of the car wreck late Tuesday.

Elmore said it appeared Evers drove off of Griffith Mill Road in Okaloosa County near Baker sometime late Monday. 

"It appears he ran off the road after failing to negotiate a curve," Elmore said.

He said Evers' car was found submerged in a roadside creek on Tuesday afternoon.

Elmore said it appeared it was a one-vehicle crash and that Evers was the only person in the vehicle.

The family released a statement saying funeral arrangements will be forthcoming.

The statement also reads: "On behalf of the family of former State Senator Greg Evers, it with great sadness that we announce his passing.  Senator Evers was involved in a single car accident last night near his home in Baker, Florida. The family asks for your prayers as they deal with this sudden loss."

Original story:

Former Florida Senator Greg Evers has died.

Evers' employer, South Palafox Group, confirmed his passing.

Details at this time are limited, but other media reports indicate Evers may have been killed in a car crash in Okaloosa County.

Florida Highway Patrol is responding to the scene of the wreck.

Evers, a folksy Baker strawberry farmer, served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2010, before serving in the Florida State Senate from 2010 to 2016. A stalwart Republican and a Panhandle fixture, Evers was a heavy supporter of Second Amendment rights and smaller government.

He drew controversy during the 2016 election season by offering up a free AR-15 raffle to citizens who liked his Facebook page.

After news of his death broke late Tuesday afternoon, two Florida senators turned to Twitter to express condolences for Evers' death.

Sen. George Gainer tweeted that Evers was "a dedicated public servant and an even better friend. He will be greatly missed. Go rest high on that mountain."

Sen. Jack Latvala, who is running for governor, tweeted a photo of Evers "photobombing" him at a recent event.

Former Senate President Don Gaetz, who served with Evers in the state Senate, said the late lawmaker always looked at issues through the eyes of the average person when he spoke on the floor of the Senate or in committee.

"He and I disagreed sometimes we agreed most but he was always an encouraging friend," he said. "He was a man's man. He was tough, he really was a farmer, and if he was your friend, he would do anything for you."

Gov. Rick Scott also turned to social media to express his condolences, writing on Twitter at 5 p.m. that, "Ann and I are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Senator Greg Evers. Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family."

State Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said he was "shocked" at the news of Evers' death.

"I just always thought he did a good job representing the rural communities," he said. "It's kind of hard for most of us to understand what it's like to be a farmer and advocate for agricultural issues, because we never tilled soil or raised cows. But Greg was able to do that. He did it first-hand and that was his job. That will probably be something that is missed in the legislative process."

This story originally appeared on the Pensacola News Journal’s website.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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