Family: “Words cannot describe the loss we feel, but we have been blessed at the outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors.”

Former state Sen. Greg Evers was remembered by his family Wednesday as “a tireless force for his constituents” and a personality larger than life.

“His presence always brightened a room,” they said in a press release. “Words cannot describe the loss we feel, but we have been blessed at the outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors.”

Evers' 2005 GMC pickup entered the deep water of Penny Creek near Baker sometime between 8:30 p.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday, according to reports and a 911 tape obtained by the Northwest Florida Daily News.

The man who finally reported a vehicle in the water at around noon Tuesday told 911 dispatchers he had noticed the damaged guardrail at the bridge along Griffith Mill Road when he passed it the evening before, and thought he’d seen “a car” in the water early that morning.

“It’s off the bridge and it’s underwater,” the man said during the 911 call. “We noticed it this morning, and we figured we’d come back by … we really should look and see if there’s a car in here, and there’s a car in the water.”

Asked if anyone was in the submerged vehicle, the man replied, “I have no clue.”

A Florida Highway Patrol report released late Tuesday noted that Evers was traveling north on Griffith Mill Road when he failed to negotiate a right curve in the roadway. His truck crossed the southbound lane of traffic and collided with a guardrail on the west shoulder.

The pickup then “continued through the guardrail and into a creek where the vehicle became submerged."

Griffith Mill Road is maintained by Okaloosa County. County Public Works Director Jason Autry estimated the bridge over Penny Creek to be about 6 feet, 4 inches above the surface of the water and said the average depth of the water there is 12 feet, 5 inches.

The 911 caller estimated the creek depth Tuesday at 18 feet and said, “I can see the back of the car.”

The guardrail Evers’ pickup collided with was constructed to Florida Department of Transportation standards for the Penny Creek Bridge, Autry said.

“It is obvious you can get through them, as this case will demonstrate,” he said.

It is unclear from the report whether Evers' brakes were applied before the pickup made contact with the guardrail.

FHP Lt. Eddie Elmore said Tuesday a traffic homicide investigation will be conducted in the case. The report released later said that tests for alcohol are pending, though Elmore said there was no evidence recovered to point toward that being related to the fatal crash.

The creek where Evers died was about 1.5 miles from the home he had shared with his wife, Lori Weems. Weems was not home the night of the accident, however, as business had taken her to Miami.

A farmer by trade, Evers made a name for himself in rural north Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties as an advocate for agriculture, serving on boards like the Yellow River Soil and Conservation Board and the Okaloosa County Farm Bureau. He ran for state office for the first time in 2001 when he sought the state House seat Jeff Miller had given up to run for Congress.

He served in the House from 2001 until 2010, then was elected to the state Senate. He left his Senate seat to run for Congress in 2016 in Florida’s First District. After losing that race he hired on as Chief of Political Affairs for the Escambia Chamber of Commerce’s South Palafox Group.

Marion Hammer, the face of the National Rifle Association in Florida, was among the first people notified of Evers’ death. She and Evers had been associates since his first run for office.

“We endorsed his opponent in the primary,” Hammer recalled. “Before the election he called and said, ‘I’m going to win this election and, no hard feelings, I’m going to be the best and strongest Second Amendment supporter you could ask for.' ”

Hammer, who may well be the state’s most influential lobbyist, truly found a loyal ally in Evers, a staunch Republican representing rural Northwest Florida. He jumped at the chance to support any pro-gun legislation, and his smiling face appeared for a time on “I’m The NRA” billboard ads that popped up across the Panhandle.

Hammer said she and Evers became colleagues and then friends. She recalled fondly gathering her grandchildren to go to lunch with the strawberry farmer turned politician.

“I’d grab the kids and we’d grab lunch,” she said. “They’d love to hear him tell his farm stories, and he’d bring them a flat of strawberries.”

Evers, Hammer said, was both a statesman and a friend, adding that gun owners could not have asked for a more dedicated public servant.

“I didn’t know anybody who didn’t like or love Greg. He didn’t have any acquaintances, he had friends,” she said. “An awful lot of people are going to miss Greg a lot more than they realize now.”

State Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, followed Evers first into the House and then captured his Senate seat when Evers ran for Congress.

Evers had an unmatched talent for dealing with people one on one, he said.

“It was always interesting to me to see how people migrated to him,” Broxson said. “I envied his ability to interact with people. He had a great talent.”

A southern drawl and his southern wit allowed Evers to maneuver in Tallahassee as easily as he did in his Northwest Florida district, Broxson said.

“He never tried to be anything but Greg Evers, and that’s pretty unique in this age,” he said.

A woman who answered the phone at South Palafox Group headquarters in Pensacola on Wednesday referred inquiries into Evers’ work at the agency to the same Tallahassee public relations organization that on late Wednesday released the family statement.

The organization’s website, though, paid touching tribute to the former senator.

“Greg Evers was a hardworking man who always met you with a smile and a southern greeting,” the release said. “Every time we see strawberries and strawberry shortcake, we will think of our friend and smile.”

 

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