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Suwannee County public safety director killed in motorcycle crash

James Sommers, 40, was firefighter for 19 years, director since 2001

James Sommers, 40, was firefighter for 19 years, director since 2001.
James Sommers, 40, was firefighter for 19 years, director since 2001.

LAKE CITY, Fla. – Condolences are pouring in for a local father killed in a motorcycle crash in Columbia County.

Suwannee County Public Safety Director James Sommers, 40, was killed Tuesday evening in a motorcycle crash in Lake City, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Authorities say Sommers was returning home from a board of commissioners meeting about 8:15 p.m. when a Ford Expedition turned left in front of him on U.S. 90 and Southwest Pinemount Road. Sommers crashed into the right side of the Expedition.

"It’s been a tough time on all of us," said Eddie Hand, Suwannee County Fire Rescue's assistant chief. "Especially with him being the leader of our department, every one of our members has had a very tough time dealing with it."

Sommers was a firefighter in Suwannee County for 19 years and rose in the ranks, serving as the county's public safety director since 2001. 

"It is with deepest sympathy and regret that we announce the death of James E. Sommers," Suwannee County Fire Rescue said in a statement Wednesday morning. "All of us are deeply saddened by his untimely death. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and department family."

Hand told News4Jax that Sommers made great strides in leading the department toward where it is today. He said they started two decades ago with only one firetruck covering the entire county and all-volunteer backup firefighters.

Because of Sommer's leadership, Suwannee now has five paid stations with 60 men in the department on staff.

"It’s been a tough loss to me because James and I went to fire school together and we were in the same class and actually roomed together in fire school," Hand said.

Sommers was given a police escort through town and the Lake City Fire Department posted dashcam video of the procession on Facebook:

"Just the things that he was able to accomplish and that we were able to accomplish as a team and he was our leader and it was amazing to be a part of and he’ll be greatly missed and very hard to replace," Hand said.

The Suwannee County Sheriff's Office said arrangements are as follows:

Viewing from 5-7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12
Daniels Funeral Home
1126 Ohio Ave. N., Live Oak, FL 32064

Service at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13
Christ Central Ministries
217 SW Dyal Ave., Lake City, FL 32024

Interment Tuesday, Aug. 13
Following service
City of Live Oak Cemetery
110 Winderweedle St. NW, Live Oak, FL

The Lake City Fire Department is reminding motorists there will be some delays due to the procession. 
The community is welcome to line the streets and wave flags during the procession to pay their respects. 

The governor's office ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in Sommers' honor.

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Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.