LAKE CITY, Fla. – Hundreds of mourners, including firefighters from as far away as Tampa, gathered Tuesday morning to honor the life of a longtime Suwannee County firefighter who was killed in a motorcycle crash last week.
James Sommers, 40, joined Suwannee County Fire Rescue in 2001 and rose in the ranks, serving as the county's public safety director since 2012.
Sommers was killed last Tuesday evening in a motorcycle crash in Lake City, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Friends and family gathered to pay their respects.
"I met him as a paramedic before he was a fire chief," Denise Cummings said. "This is a hurt to the community, to Shands and EMS. He was just friendly, fun and (I) joked with him every day."
Another mourner was Kenneth Roundtree.
"He's a down-to-earth person. Never met a stranger or anything. The first day and it was like I knew him my whole life," Roundtree said. "There was never a day that I ever had a dull moment with him. I’m truly going to miss him a lot."
After his funeral service at Christ Central Ministries on SW Dyal Avenue in Lake City, his casket was loaded aboard a Suwannee County fire truck for a procession to his interment at the city of Live Oak Cemetery.
Community members lined the route and waved flags as the procession passed to pay their respects.
The governor's office ordered flags to be flown at half-staff Tuesday in Sommers' honor in Live Oak and at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.
Suwannee County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Eddie 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.
Since Sommers' leadership, Suwannee added another paid station with 25 firefighters to the staff.
"He Is the kind of guy to never tell you no," Hand said. "If anybody in the community called and asked for something, he was always ready to ... make sure they were taken care of."
Sommers went to fire school at 18 years old and it was truly his calling. He leaves behind two children ages 18 and 11.