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Jeri Bustamante, Aide to Gov. Scott, Dies in an Islamorada Boat Accident

April 9, 2018 - 2:30pm

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. 

Jeri Bustamante famously in the middle, between Gov. Scott and Cara Jennings

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 or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


Dear Anthony, Our condolences to you and your family. I was deeply saddened when I read about the accident. Our love and prayers are with you.

Condolences to family

A mystery? Why did Eddy Briel the captain of the the vessel veer off into the mangroves? Might there be more to this story?

Mystery? The word "mystery" doesn't appear this story anywhere. The media are reporting the facts as known......... and I'm sure will have more details for folks like you who just have to know the salacious facts that aren't going to bring back this Floridian, or you can file a public records request for the details. Anyone who is a boater knows it is relatively easy to miss a channel marker at times, and that the Keys in particular are full of marine hazards. If you're in a skiff, it's even easier to be on top of something quickly before you realize it and can react. Anglers and boaters know these facts.

I am aware of how difficult it is to change course on the waters, it strikes me odd that in politics you often find strange bedfellows., especially when the good governor has thrown his hat for a seat in the cesspool. Let us hope that anyone who saw or heard anything call 305-289-2320 (The FWC is the agency investigating the accident) can you tell me what does FWC stand for?

Go back to the beginning of the story: FWC is what we call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Thanks. It's unusual that the police were not involved, I thought that a death should have been reported to the police. There was no mention of the law involved in this investigation.

Apparently, Jeri and her husband just purchased a home in our neighborhood. They only recently began attending our parish church. They were with us on Easter Sunday evening for Mass. My personal prayers go out to Anthony, her husband, and to all of Jeri's family members. May our faith in Christ's Resurrection give each one consolation and hope in the face of such hurt.

Amen. Grateful to hear, Father, that you may be providing needed solace to family members.

Jeri Bustamante was a sweetheart and yes she was bubbly and so much more. She was a friend, who will be truly mourned and missed. Our condolences go to her beloved Anthony and family.

Gov and Mrs. Scott have warm hearts which shows in their statement of Jeri's passing. Our prayers go to all those who knew her; especially her family during these deeply personal times.

So sorry for the loss of a wonderful individual. Prayers for her family.

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