Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods was clearly shaken Sunday when he announced the death of Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham in a plane crash during a late afternoon press conference.
“I’m coming to you today with a heart that is heavy,” he said. “This morning, Ocala and Marion County experienced a tragedy.”
Woods said his deputies and crews from Marion County Fire Rescue received a call about a plane crash near Dunnellon at 11:31 a.m. and when they arrived at the crash site – an open field in the 9700 block of S.W. 140th Avenue, not far from the Marion County Airport – they found the pilot of the private plane dead. They also were “shocked and grief-stricken” to learn that the pilot was Graham.
“I had the privilege of serving with Chief Graham as he devoted over 30 years of his life to law enforcement,” said Woods, who served in a variety of law enforcement roles with the Ocala Police Department before becoming sheriff and referred to Graham as a friend and mentor. “I have met with his wife and family and they will need your prayers in the weeks and months ahead. I’ve also spoken with some of his work family at the Ocala Police Department. They, too, will be grateful for your thoughts and prayers in the coming days.”
Woods went on to say that the sheriff’s office and the Ocala Police Department have a great working relationship.
“I can tell you that this relationship began at the top,” he said. “I consider Greg a great, personal friend.”
Woods said he and his deputies consider those working in the Ocala Police Department as their “brothers and sisters” and they will all hurt together.
“This tragedy has affected all of us and the ripple effects of such a sudden tragedy will be felt across both agencies,” he said.
Woods praised Graham for his service to the Ocala community, saying his dedication to the citizens of the city was never questioned.
“He loved being the Ocala Police chief,” the sheriff said. “He loved Ocala and Ocala loved him back. He will be missed by so many that he has affected – myself included.”
Woods also asked for prayers for Graham’s family and co-workers.
“The book of Psalm says the Lord is near to them that have a broken heart,” he said. “They are all going to need comfort through this loss. Greg did quite a bit and was taken too soon. But, I think Abraham Lincoln said it best when he said, ‘In the end, it is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.’ Chief Graham put a lot into everything he did and impacted so many of us.”