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Updated Aug 4, 2014 - 8:27 pm

Arizona Sen. Chester Crandell dies in apparent horse accident

PHOENIX -- State Sen. Chester Crandell, a Republican from eastern Arizona who championed education, states' rights and rural issues, was found dead by family members Monday after taking a young horse for a ride, Navajo County sheriff's officials said.

Crandell, 68, took a "young colt" on a one-hour horseback ride Monday at approximately 10:00 a.m. at Despain Ranch, near Heber-Overgaard, Ariz. When he did not return in a timely manner, family members began searching ranch, before eventually finding him along his planned route at about 2:00 p.m., already deceased. The colt was found nearby.

Crandell was either bucked off the horse or suffered some sort of medical issue, Chief Deputy Jim Molesa said. There was no sign of foul play, and the county medical examiner will determine a cause of death.

"This is a tragic loss for the family and friends of Senator Crandell," said Navajo County Sheriff KC Clark. "Chester was a good man and a strong voice for rural Arizona. I wish to express our deepest sympathy to his family. May God bless them at this time."

Gov. Jan Brewer ordered flags across the state lowered to half-staff from sunrise Tuesday morning though sunset on Aug. 11.

"I am deeply saddened today to learn of the tragic and sudden passing of State Senator Chester Crandell," Brewer said in a statement. "A fifth-generation native of Arizona, avid rancher, legislator and- above all -- a gentleman with a tangible love for Arizona and those he served, Chester will be greatly missed."

Crandell had served in the Arizona Senate representing District 6 since January 2013 after two years of representing District 5 in the state House. He was chairman of the Senate public safety committee, vice chairman of the education committee and served on the appropriations, government and environment, and natural resources and rural affairs committees.

Senate President Andy Biggs said Crandell was exceptionally engaged in his legislative work and often beat him to the Capitol.

In the 2014 legislative session, Crandell sponsored a bill requiring federal agents to register with the local sheriff, show a warrant and hand over any fines they collected. Senate Bill 1093 failed after the Senate attorney determined it likely ran afoul of the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"He was a great lawmaker, he was passionate, he did his homework," Biggs said. "He worked hard. He loved his constituents, he loved his state, he loved rural Arizona."

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said that Crandell was also classy and honorable:

"We didn't always see eye to eye on things, but I have absolutely no doubt that Sen. Crandell worked on the issues he did because he believed they would improve Arizona."

Crandell was running unopposed in the Republican primary for re-election to represent District 6, and no Democrats were seeking the seat.

Crandell was born in Holbrooke, Ariz., and raised in Heber, Ariz., where he lived with his wife, Alice, and raised nine children. He had a bachelor's degree in agriculture education from the University of Arizona and master's degree in education leadership from Northern Arizona University.

Crandell was an educator for more than 30 years, including 10 years as superintendent of the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology in Snowflake.

The sheriff's office said funeral services were incomplete.

KTAR's Lauren Berkley contributed to this report.

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