The town fell silent Thursday at around 11:40 a.m. People lined the streets of Benson and solemnly watched, as a procession of vehicles escorted Cochise County Sherriff Larry Dever from the Benson airport to Richardson’s Remebrance Center.
Some wept. Others just watched. Men took off their hats, as the line of emergency response vehicles, lights flashing, slowly made its way to the mortuary. For most, the slow-moving procession symbolized a final farewell to the sheriff who had become a local icon.
Throughout the area, communities are paying tribute to Sheriff Larry Dever, who died in a single car accident on Sept. 18 in northern Arizona. News of his death swept through Cochise County and the state, with area leaders expressing sorrow about his unexpected death and Gov. Jan Brewer ordering all flags on state buildings to be lowered to half-staff.
Officials and community leaders who knew Dever personally and professionally, offered comments about the sheriff and extended condolences to his family.
“On a personal level, Larry Dever was one of the greatest people you could ever meet,” said Benson Mayor Toney King, whose daughter is married to one of Dever’s sons. “He was down-to-earth, honest and had a strong love for his family. Along with his wife, Nancy, he was devoted to his sons and grandchildren. Larry always did extraordinary things for his family, while managing to balance his leadership role as Cochise County’s Sheriff. His passion for our border issues and quiet but firm leadership abilities are qualities all of us are going to miss. As a leader, Larry Dever is legendary. I’m sure that I speak for all of Cochise County when I say I am profoundly saddened by this tragic loss to our community, county and state. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Dever family at this very difficult time.”
Benson Police Chief Paul Moncada echoed some of the mayor’s comments with, “I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Sheriff Larry Dever. Sheriff Dever was a down-to-earth and dedicated lawman who had served the public since 1976. He and I were members of the same police academy class and worked together in the Benson/St. David area during the early years of our careers. As our careers evolved, we continued to help each other out whenever the need arose. Larry was always willing to lend a helping hand. He will be greatly missed. My condolences go out to Nancy and the rest of the Dever family.”
Former Benson Police Chief Glenn Nichols, now Benson’s City Manager, said there were many times during his career as police chief that he and Dever met to discuss concerns and issues. “Sheriff Dever will be missed by all in the law enforcement community because of his professionalism and integrity. He was truly a leader working for his county, state, and the well-being of the citizens.”
Born and raised in St. David, Larry and his wife, Nancy, are the parents of six sons. The sheriff died just four days after his mother, 86-year-old Annie Mae Dever, died of cancer. Her obituary appeared in the News-Sun on Wednesday [Sept. 19], the very day news of her son’s death was making headlines throughout the state. He and his mother were buried during a private service on Saturday, attended by family and close friends.
A public memorial service is planned for the sheriff Wednesday, [Sept. 26] at 5:30 p.m. at Buena High School off Charleston Road in Sierra Vista.
On Sunday, the town of Tombstone held a Cowboy Walkdown as a tribute to the sheriff, with five of Dever’s sons and other family members participating. The procession included hundreds of participants, marking one of the largest walkdowns in the town’s history. Tombstone residents in period dress and people from surrounding communities followed a riderless horse down historic Allen Street, with cowboy boots placed backwards in the stirrups. The somber tribute was followed by brief remarks made by Larry Dever’s second son, Brian Dever, who thanked the crowd for the “tremendous outpouring of support” in honor of his father.
“Your support and this tribute to our father means a lot to me and my entire family,” he said. “I want to thank all of you for being here.”
A 34-year Cochise County law enforcement veteran, Dever entered his career in 1976 as a deputy. He worked his way up the ranks, and was elected to his first term as sheriff in 1996. He was re-elected to a fourth-term in 2008 and was running unopposed in November for what would have been his fifth term as sheriff. His willingness to take the lead on the issue of illegal immigration launched Dever into the national spotlight when he testified before Congress on several occasions regarding immigration issues.
In the wake of Dever’s death, Mark Dannels, a 22-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, has been selected by the Cochise County Republican Committee to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Dannels started working for the county sheriff’s office in 1986 and, after serving different positions, was made Deputy Commander to Dever by special appointment. In 2008, he retired from the sheriff’s office and relocated to Coquille, Ore. where he served as chief of police. During the three years he was in Oregon, Dannels kept an eye on the sheriff’s seat in Cochise County and would return to the area every three months to maintain his reserve status with the sheriff’s office.
“I thought I would be running in 2012, because Larry had told me he planned to retire this year,” said Dannels. “So in 2011 I moved back to Cochise County, with plans of running for sheriff.”
But Dannels’ plans changed when Dever decided to run for a fifth term.
“Out of respect for him, I decided to wait and run in 2016. I returned to the sheriff’s office where I’ve been working as a deputy,” Dannels said.
Once he’s officially elected to office during the Nov. 6 general election, Dannels will begin his term on Jan. 2. Until that time, Deputy Chief Rod Rothrock will continue performing the duties of sheriff in accordance with state law.
While pleased by the support he received from the Republican delegates, Dannels said he would give anything to have Dever here.
“As a good friend and mentor, Larry has taught me leadership qualities that will help me in the Sheriff’s office,” Dannels said. “The events leading up to this are both tragic and premature. Larry was a true law enforcement icon and will be deeply missed by all who knew him. His leadership is legendary and will serve as a guide for all law enforcement officers. Larry Dever’s reputation and community respect have touched citizens and law enforcement throughout this county, state and beyond.”
Dannels also talked about the interview process that allowed him to be placed on the November ballot, stating it was the most difficult interview he had ever been through, given the circumstances.
“My goals and objectives are to continue on with the legacy of Sheriff Larry Dever,” Dannels said. “This includes the immigration issues that we face in Cochise County, paying special attention to our ranchers and the critical impact immigration has on ranching. I am blessed and honored to be selected to carry on the legacy that Sheriff Dever began 16 years ago and will work hard to serve the citizens of Cochise County,” he said. “I know that I have huge shoes to fill, but I plan to work hard for Cochise County.”