Jereima "Jeri" Bustamante, 33, press secretary to Gov. Rick Scott since 2014, died Sunday evening after the boat she was riding in crashed into a stand of mangroves in a narrow channel off Islamorada.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Bobby Dube told the Miami Herald she suffered blunt force trauma and died soon after the accident in a Tavernier hospital.
The 18-foot Maverick skiff she was traveling in on the bay side of Whale Harbor Channel was operated by 39-year-old Eddy Briel, according to the FWC. Alcohol is not suspected as a factor. Speed is unrestricted in that part of the waterway.
Dube told the Herald the vessel "veered off the channel and into the mangroves." Also on the boat were Anthony Bustamante, 37, and Geydis Briel, 32, who were injured in the crash, as was Eddy Briel, but Dube said the extent of their injuries was not immediately known.
The Herald reported that boaters traveling behind Briel's Maverick stopped, took the injured aboard their craft and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Jereima Bustamante until they reached the docks of Whale Harbor Marina. Medics were waiting.
She was pronounced dead at Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, Dube said.
Bustamante, who was instrumental in helping Scott hone his Spanish language skills, died as she was transitioning from the Governor's Office to Scott's Senate campaign.
She came to the governor's attention when Scott named Carlos Lopez-Cantera as lieutenant governor in 2014. Bustamante was working with Lopez-Cantera in the Miami-Dade property appraisers office at the time.
Bustamante was based in Miami, not in Tallahassee. She traveled with Scott on his South Florida trips and was particularly visible in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and was at his side after the deadly shootings at Pulse and Parkland.
Gov. Scott and First Lady Ann Scott issued this statement early 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.”
Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera added, “Jeri was a part of our team for many years. She was a joy to work with and cared tremendously about her family, her career and the Floridians she served. I met Jeri when working as Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser and witnessed her passion for media relations firsthand. My family and I are grieving with Jeri’s family and those closest to her.”
Bustamante, with Scott and liberal activist Cara Jennings, made national news in April 2016 in a downtown Gainesville Starbucks when Jennings unleashed a loud and very public dressing-down of the governor for "cutting Medicaid" and depriving her of Obamacare. Bustamante was shown on a viral video across social media as she unsuccessfully but enthusiastically tried to come to Scott's defense.
The FWC is the agency investigating the accident. Anyone who saw or heard anything is beng urged to call 305-289-2320.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith