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Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

TAMPA — Former Florida state Rep. Robert Wallace ended his life Monday night by jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass, records show.

He was 65.

At least one witness saw Wallace plunge 40 to 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, according to a Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's report. A 911 call came in at 7:02 p.m., and first responders found his body lying on a rock surface next to railroad tracks.

The report lists the manner of death as suicide.

Wallace, known to many as Rob, served in the state House representing northwest Hillsborough and northern Pinellas counties, beginning in 1994, when he collected signatures to get on the ballot and then beat an incumbent who outspent him.

He rode a Republican surge to Tallahassee in the midterm period of the Clinton administration.

"Truman said that money doesn't win elections, people do. I wanted to prove that," he said after his victory. "The key was reaching people, going out walking the district door-to-door and waving signs on Dale Mabry and in downtown Tarpon Springs."

After the election, he returned to the street with a "thank you" sign.

"He was a good and decent man," said the Democrat he ousted, Brian P. Rush, on Wednesday. "He had a different philosophy, but I could sense that he was honorable. He really wanted to be in public service."

The philosophy was a conservative one.

During Wallace's time in the state House, he opposed new taxes and bills that he considered to be government overreach. He voted against mandatory swimming pool fences and bicycle helmets. He worked to cap fines for environmental violations.

"He never wanted power; he just wanted to make a difference in people's lives," said Tampa attorney Gilbert Singer.

Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, said Wallace's attempts to reduce spending were meticulous. Friends would tease that he stayed up all night reading budgets.

He served until 2002. Term limits returned him to Tampa, where he owned and operated a civil and environmental engineering company, Environmental Engineering Consultants.

"I came to the belief that man can cause problems and man can solve those problems, and I wanted to be on the cleanup team," he explained on his website.

His engineering degree was from the University of South Florida, which he attended after graduating from Tampa Catholic High School.

Former state Sen. John Grant worked closely with Wallace for about eight years and said he was saddened by news of his death.

"This just proves how much we don't know about how to fight mental illness," Grant said. "It's not like other medical problems where you can get an MRI and find out what is wrong."

According to the Medical Examiner's Office, Wallace had been suffering from depression in recent years and was taking medications commonly used for mood disorders.

His family will hold a memorial service at 1 p.m. Monday at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz.

"He was a true family man who loved and cared deeply for his community," said daughter Amber Loper, 32, reading a family statement Wednesday.

"He worked hard to give all he could back to others, which led him to start his environmental business, run for state office and volunteer for many organizations. He will be deeply missed."

In addition to his daughter, Wallace is survived by his sons, Robert, Scott, and Connor Wallace, and his wife, Ann. He had three grandchildren.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Jonathan Capriel at 813-225-3141 or Follow @jonathancapriel.