Those who knew Lea County Sheriff Steve Ackerman said he “touched so many lives.”

Ackerman died in a car crash near Encino on Tuesday, while he was en route to Santa Fe on a legislative trip, according to a spokesperson for the Torrance County Sheriff’s Department.

Wednesday was somber in Lovington, NM, where Ackerman lived and worked.

“Everybody knew him, and they knew of his integrity and his honesty, and his work ethic,” said Paul Campos, Lovington Mayor and a close friend of Ackerman.

“You really don’t expect that to happen,” Campos said. “Such a tragic occasion. It just really breaks your heart. My heart is broken right now. I’m sure his family, his wife, and everybody is suffering a great loss right now.”

“Everybody’s still in shock. We’re going through a grieving process,” Campos explained.

In a statement from the Lea County Sheriff’s Office, Ackerman’s death is a “devastating loss.”

“Ackerman taught many law enforcement officers, corrections officers and emergency responders through his years of service, leadership and experience and he will be missed by all of us,” Undersheriff Tom Dunford said.

Campos first met Ackerman when the pair served on the LCSO SWAT team.

“I was a team leader and he was what they call the point man. He was my point man,” Campos added. “The irony in it, is that he’s on point for everything that he does now and everything he did then. Everything he did, he did the best that he could, and he dedicated himself to be the best father, to be the best husband, and the best Sheriff that he could be and and he was in my opinion.”

“I’m going to miss him as a friend, as a law enforcement individual, and as a leader in Lea County as well,” said Campos.

Lovington Police Chief David Rodriguez traveled to Albuquerque on Wednesday to escort Ackerman’s body back home.

“There is no way to prepare for it,” Rodriguez said.

He said Thursday’s escort would include three Lovington Police officers, about ten members of the LCSO, individuals from New Mexico State Police, and other agencies.

“He’ll always live here with us. We carry him with us,” Campos said as he tapped his chest.

Ackerman leaves behind a wife and two children.