Timothy De La Fuente, a 27-year veteran of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, died Thursday morning, two days after testing positive for COVID-19, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said.
The 53-year-old detention deputy at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center was tested for coronavirus Tuesday and had not been notified of his result, Salazar said.
“Our understanding is that when he reported to work on Tuesday, [he had] no symptoms to speak of, as far as fever or anything that would have kept him out of the building,” he said. “He reported to work that he was on those tests. Wednesday morning he called in sick.”
Salazar said De La Fuente was planning to seek medical care Thursday.
The deputy, who was married, had underlying health conditions that would be considered comorbidities, Salazar said. The sheriff’s office does not know his cause of death and is waiting on an autopsy. The San Antonio Police Department recorded his death as an apparent sudden death, pending the medical examiner’s office determination.
It’s the first COVID-19 death for the sheriff’s department and the jail. Forty deputies at the jail and 129 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus.
Though the sheriff’s office continues to distribute face masks and soap to inmates, give personal protective equipment to deputies, and disinfect common areas at the jail, Salazar said he expects to see his number of cases rise.
“We know, due to this mass testing … our positives are going to, in my terms, they’re going to skyrocket,” he said, “But I suspect also that many of those positives will be asymptomatic. I don’t know that that makes us feel any better or any worse. What it will let us know is it’ll give us a full grasp of what we have here in the jail. I think I would rather know than not know.”
Salazar warned that the jail’s COVID-19 cases reflect what San Antonio and Bexar County will begin to see as stay-at-home restrictions relax.
“Mark my words: as businesses start to reopen, you could be standing in the grocery store right next to 20 people that look fine,” he said. “They’re not coughing, sneezing, anything, but they have this illness. And so I think that we’re all taking a huge chance in going out prematurely.”
Though the cause of death hasn’t been determined, Salazar said he is treating it as an on-duty death. Consequently, the sheriff’s office will ensure that De La Fuente is buried with full honors.
De La Fuente was a respectful man who was always eager to say hello, Salazar said. The first time they met, De La Fuente had just been struck by an inmate while on detention duty, and Salazar accompanied him to the hospital. While De La Fuente healed, he was assigned to front door duty, where he always greeted Salazar with a handshake.
“Even if I was 30 feet past him, he’d call my name and make sure that I stopped and would not let me into my office without shaking his hand,” Salazar said. “That’s one of the memories that will stick with me forever about Timothy De La Fuente.”