OCALA, Fla. (AP) — Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham died Sunday when the small plane he was piloting crashed into a field, sheriff’s officials said.
Marion County Fire Rescue responded to a call just after 11:30 a.m. from the Marion County Airport, which is near Dunnellon, officials said.
The plane crashed in an open field near the airport, killing Graham. He was the only person aboard the single-engine plane, the Ocala Star-Banner reported.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash.
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn named Deputy Chief Mike Balken interim cheif.
Guinn told the newspaper that Graham had recently obtained his pilot’s license, adding that the chief enjoyed skydiving and scuba diving and always had a fascination with flying.
“It’s hard to believe,” Guinn said.
Graham had been chief since 2012, after working for many years in the department and rising to deputy chief.
He had left the Ocala Police Department in 2008 to become police chief in Ceder Rapids, Iowa. He was the person to be selected chief from outside that agency in 30 years, the newspaper reported.
During his stint in Iowa, he guided the department through rising flood waters in June 2008. He told the Star-Banner then that the experience was “trial by fire.”
“I feel like I’m back in Florida during the 2004-2005 hurricanes we had, and we had to get ready for them,” he said then.
He returned to Florida when the Ocala police chief resigned in late December 2008.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods — also a former Ocala police officer — said at a news conference on Sunday that he is grief-stricken.
Woods said he had the pleasure of serving with Graham for more than 30 years in law enforcement. He said investigators don’t have all the answers, but will be working the case in the coming days.
Woods and Balken met with Graham’s wife and family, and asked for the community’s prayers and support.