TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jereima “Jeri” Bustamante, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott who was going to work on his U.S. Senate campaign, died Sunday when a boat in which she was riding crashed into mangrove trees in the Florida Keys.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the crash.
Scott, who announced he was running for Senate on Monday, and First Lady Ann Scott released a joint statement expressing their grief.
“Anyone who ever spent time with Jeri knows what a terrific and selfless person she was,” the Scotts said in the statement. “Her personality filled rooms and hearts. We grieve with her family today.”
Bustamante, 33, served as one of Scott’s media handlers in South Florida, relocating from Tallahassee to be with her husband, Republican political consultant Anthony Bustamante, in Miami.
Jackie Schutz Zeckman, Scott’s former chief of staff, called Bustamante “an amazing woman.”
“Great colleague and friend,” Schutz tweeted. “She loved FL and was the hardest worker. She had the biggest heart and made everyone around her happy. Miss you, Jeri.”
Bustamante was one of four people on an 18-foot Maverick center console vessel that was cruising along the bay side of the Whale Harbor Channel when it hit mangrove trees at 6:16 p.m. Sunday.
“She was taken by Good Samaritans in another vessel to Whale Harbor Marina where she was treated by Islamorada Fire Rescue, but she unfortunately did not survive,” Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Rob Klepper said in a statement.
Anthony Bustamante, a passenger on the boat along with Geydis Briel and Eddy Briel, the operator, were treated for non-life threatening injuries. The Briels are also from Miami.
The initial boating incident form provided by the commission didn’t suggest what caused the boat to strike the mangroves.
Jeri Bustamante previously worked with the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser’s Office when Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera served as property appraiser. She worked on Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign, where she handled Hispanic media outreach.
Lopez-Cantera said in a statement that Bustamante “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,” Lopez-Cantera said in his statement. “My family and I are grieving with Jeri’s family and those closest to her.”
While attending Florida International University, where she received her undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in public administration, Bustamante worked as an associate producer at WSVN in Miami.