Larry Dever, the four-term Republican sheriff of Cochise County who was an outspoken advocate for stronger border security, has been killed in a one-vehicle crash near the northern Arizona town of Williams. He was 60.Dever’s death was confirmed early Wednesday by the sheriff’s department.
Dever was driving on a dirt Forest Service road on the way to meet family members for a camping and hunting trip at White Horse Lake south of Williams when his pickup rolled, according to a news release from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.
Another driver had been following Dever’s truck Tuesday evening and told deputies he came around a corner and found a cloud of dust. The pickup had rolled but landed on its wheels. Dever was dead at the scene.
It’s not clear if Dever was wearing a seat belt, but he was not ejected, Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Gerry Blair said. There was no sign Dever had been drinking.
The sheriff died just four days after his 86-year-old mother, Annie Mae Dever, died of cancer.
Dever was first elected to his post as the head of the county’s law enforcement agency in 1996, and was last re-elected in 2008. He joined the agency as a deputy in 1976, according to the sheriff’s department website.
He entered the national spotlight as one of Arizona’s four border sheriffs who asked to legally defend the state’s controversial anti-illegal immigration law, known as SB1070, in federal court. Cochise County, in the state’s southeastern corner, shares an 83.5-mile border with Mexico and is one of the state’s hot spots for illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
He said at the time that the federal government was failing to secure the border and praised the law, which includes provisions that require police to question a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and if officers suspect the person is in the county illegally.
“If the federal government had been doing and would continue to do its job in securing the border here in southern Arizona, this would not be an issue. Unfortunately, they failed to do that, so Arizona stepped up and said, ‘We want to be partners. Here’s a role we think we can play,’” Dever told The Associated Press earlier this year.
Gov. Jan Brewer lamented the loss of Dever and said she had known him since she was a Maricopa County Supervisor in the late 1990s.
“I’ll remember him in his cowboy hat – soft-spoken and unfailingly polite, but firm in his beliefs and steady in his service to the law,” Brewer said in a statement. “In the truest sense, Sheriff Dever was a Western lawman and country gentleman.”
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said he was shocked and saddened at Dever’s death.
“He was my friend, a leader on border security and leader among sheriffs,” Babeu said in a statement. “This is a great loss to Arizona, a true patriot has died and he will be sorely missed.”
It was Dever’s office that investigated the 2010 death of a prominent rancher whom the sheriff said was likely killed by an illegal immigrant. The killing spurred Arizona’s political leadership, including Gov. Jan Brewer and its U.S. senators, to renew pressure on the Obama administration to deploy National Guard troops along the southern border.
Dever also joined other Arizona sheriffs in slamming the Obama administration over a botched federal operation that lost track of weapons sold to suspect straw purchasers for Mexican drug gangs.
“We spent a great deal of time at the border with Sheriff Dever and know firsthand his long commitment to keeping the people of our state safe,” U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl said in a joint statement. “We also admired Sheriff Dever’s strength to speak out when he believed more needed to be done to secure our border. Sheriff Dever was not only a leader in Cochise County, but also across Arizona and throughout the law enforcement community. Sheriff Dever was a man of honor, integrity, and selfless service to the State of Arizona. He will be greatly missed.”
Dever was born and grew up in the town of St. David. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; six sons; and 11 grandchildren.