LECANTO (FOX 13) - Phil Royal, a candidate who many believed would be the next sheriff of Citrus County, passed away unexpectedly on Monday morning. The community mourned the loss Monday evening during a gathering at Seven River Presbyterian Church in Lecanto.
Royal, 47, died after suffering a seizure while running in a charitable fundraising event for the Key Training Center of Citrus County, according to a post on his Facebook page, Phil Royal for Sheriff.
"He was young, he was vibrant, he was full of life. We're all in shock," said George Schmalstig, a close friend and campaign partner.
Friends said Royal was a very physically fit person, who often ran for leisure. He was actively involved in local charities and the Citrus County community as a whole.
Royal was born in Clearwater, Florida, but he moved to Citrus County in 1988. He started his career in public service as a firefighter/paramedic. Royal began working for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office as a deputy in 1990.
"He had many different roles in the sheriff's office and touched many lives. He was just a fantastic human being who left everyone that he met better," said Schmalstig.
For more than 20 years with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, Royal worked as a patrol deputy, school resource officer, SWAT medic, underwater recovery team commander, SCUBA diving instructor, crime scene technician, sergeant and lieutenant.
He retired in 2014 and began a career in sales with Taser International.
Royal wanted to return to law enforcement to take on the role of Citrus County Sheriff, a position that has been filled by Sheriff Jeff Dawsy since 1996.
"Today I filled out my sample ballot. I filled in Phil's bubble on that ballot, and I thought to myself, 'I have never been so sure about filling in a bubble about someone running for office,'" said Schmalstig.
Royal had more than 4,700 followers on the "Phil Royal for Sheriff" Facebook page.
"Phil reminded us all the time in this campaign that we have to be united in this community. Looking at the tragedies around our country, Phil continued to say that we need to be one united community," said Schmalstig.
Friends said outside of politics, Royal was a family man. He and his wife, April, were the proud parents of an infant daughter.
Funeral services are planned for Monday, July 25th at 11 a.m. at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church, followed by a processional to Hills of Rest Cemetery in Floral City.