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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham killed in plane crash near Dunnellon

Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham

Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham was killed in a plane crash late Sunday morning.

The plane went down about 11:30 a.m. in an open field in the 9700 block of S.W. 140th Avenue, not far from the Marion County Airport near Dunnellon. No one else was injured in the crash.

Graham reportedly obtained his pilot’s license recently and was flying the single-engine airplane. He was the only occupant of the aircraft.

After learning of Graham’s death, a shaken Mayor Kent Guinn, who oversees the police department, appointed Deputy Chief Mike Balken as the interim chief.

Major Crimes detectives from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office are investigating Graham’s death. The Federal Aviation Administration also is responding to investigate the crash.

From left, Ocala City Council President Pro-Tem Justin Grabelle, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods, Ocala Councilman Matthew Wardell and Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham shared a laugh in December 2019 before the groundbreaking ceremony for the new MLK First Responder Campus.

Sheriff Billy Woods released a statement late Sunday afternoon pledging support to Graham’s family and the Ocala Police Department.

“The family of Chief Greg Graham, Ocala Police Department, Marion County Sheriff’s Office and all who knew Chief Graham experienced a tragedy today,” Woods said. “Right now, the focus is to assist his family and his family in blue who are impacted by his sudden and tragic loss.”

Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham speaks with protesters in Ocala in June in this photo that was posted on City Councilmember Matthew Wardell’s Facebook page.

Ocala City Councilmember Matthew Wardell also released a brief statement on his Facebook page.

“An incredibly tragic day for Ocala. Please pray and send comforting thoughts to the entire Graham family,” he wrote.

Graham had served as Ocala’s police chief since 2012. He came up through the ranks of the department and left in 2008 to become chief of the Cedar Rapids Police Department in Iowa. He returned in late 2011 to serve as chief after Sam Williams resigned.

Graham was lauded during recent peaceful protests in Ocala following the death of George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minnesota. He went out and spoke with the protesters and released a statement condemning the actions that led to Floyd’s death. He also made it quite clear that Ocala residents were welcome to call him personally if they had any concerns about his officers.

“I personally hold my officers accountable for their actions and expect them to hold each other accountable as well. To have respect and to do the right thing is instilled into Ocala officers not only during their training but each day afterwards and hopefully long after they retire,” the statement read.

Ocala City Council President Mary Sue Rich, center, cuts the ribbon in January 2019 at the new First Responder Campus on NE 8th Avenue along with help from Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander, left, and Police Chief Greg Graham.

Graham recently received a glowing performance review from the City Council and his staff paid to tribute to him on the department’s Facebook page on National Boss’ Day. The post read: “To a boss who guides with insight & intuition, recognizes hard work, encourages and appreciates employees.”

Words of condolences started pouring in late Sunday on Facebook, including one from a resident who has known Graham since she was a child.

“My heart breaks with this loss today,” wrote Amber Starling. “Chief Graham and I go way back as he used to referee my basketball games in elementary and middle school. He was always so kind and light-hearted. He was a generous and hard-working entity in our community and will be greatly missed.”

“My heart is broken for the Graham family, our community and for the entire Ocala Police Department family,” wrote Tracy Sage Belcher. “Prayers for strength and comfort during this difficult time.”

Kathy Rothenberger agreed.

“Oh my God. What a loss to Ocala and his family. You will be missed,” she wrote.