An aide to Gov. Rick Scott died Sunday night after the boat on which she was a passenger crashed into mangrove branches lining a narrow channel in Islamorada.
Jereima Bustamante, 33, suffered blunt force trauma and died at Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Bobby Dube. She was a passenger on an 18-foot Maverick skiff operated by Eddy Briel, 39, that was traveling in a cut-through area on the bay side of Whale Harbor Channel around 6:15 p.m.
She was Scott’s press secretary. His office released the following statement Monday afternoon:
“It is with true sadness that we learned today of the passing of our long time Press Secretary, Jeri Bustamante, who faithfully served in our administration for many years. Anyone who ever spent time with Jeri knows what a terrific and selfless person she was. Her personality filled rooms and hearts. We grieve with her family today.”
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For reasons still under investigation, the vessel veered off the channel and into the mangroves, Dube said. Also on the Maverick were Anthony Bustamante, 37, and Geydis Briel, 32, who were injured in the crash, as was Eddy Briel. Dube said the extent of their injuries was not immediately known.
Alcohol is not suspected to be a factor in the crash, and the area in which Briel was boating is not restricted, meaning vessels do not have to operate at lower speeds, Dube said.
People traveling behind Briel’s vessel stopped and took the injured aboard their boat. They performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Jereima Bustamante until they reached the docks of Whale Harbor Marina at mile marker 83.4, where they were met by medics.
She was pronounced dead at Mariners, Dube said.
The crash is being investigated by the FWC.
“If anyone saw anything or heard anything, please give FWC a call at 305-289-2320,” Dube said.
Bustamante, who was transitioning from the governor's office to Scott’s Senate campaign that he announced on Monday, got her start with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, working with him in the Miami-Dade property appraisers office. When Scott named Lopez-Cantera to be his running mate in 2014, Bustamante joined the campaign and began working with the governor on his Spanish.
Based in Miami, she often accompanied the governor on his South Florida trips, was at his side during many of his travels through the region in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and was also at his side after the mass shootings at Pulse and Parkland.
Bustamante was described by her friends as “always bubbly” and a “ball of energy.” The governor’s office said they will be releasing a statement soon.
This is a developing story.
David Goodhue: 305-923-9728