PHOENIX — A state senator was found dead Monday on a Navajo County ranch, the possible victim of a balky horse.

Jim Molesa, the county’s chief deputy, said 68-year-old Chester Crandell had gone riding Monday morning on the Despain Ranch in Heber, where he lives.

“He was only supposed to be gone an hour,” Molesa said. “He did ride a horse that was new to him. It was described to us as a younger colt.”

Molesa said when Crandell did not return after about an hour, family members went searching for him.

He said they found the senator at about 2 p.m., “not far from the trail he was supposed to be on, on the ground.” Molesa said Crandell already was dead.

He said the horse, sans rider, came back to the area a short time later.

“It could be an accident but we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure we don’t expect any foul play or anything like that,” he said. Molesa said there were no obvious signs of trauma.

Molesa said one thing the medical examiner will have to determine is whether Crandell died from the fall or perhaps had a heart attack or something else and then fell.

His death means Navajo County supervisors will have to choose a replacement just in case the Legislature meets in special session before January.

The election itself is another matter.

Crandell, a Republican, was assured nomination as he was without primary opposition. It is too late to replace him on that ballot, as early voting has begun.

But state law apparently allows GOP officials to name a replacement for the general election. That person would face off against former state Rep. Tom O’Halleran of Sedona, who has qualified to run in the general election in November.

Crandell was first elected to the state House in 2010, moving to the Senate in the 2012 election.

Crandell is survived by his wife, Alice, along with nine children and 36 grandchildren.