A procession of more than 50 cars followed a hearse carrying fallen Bexar County detention deputy Timothy De La Fuente to a Southside funeral home on Monday.
De La Fuente, a 27-year veteran of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, died of complications of COVID-19 at his home last Thursday, according to the medical examiner’s office, two days after testing positive for the new coronavirus. He is the first detention deputy to die since the first coronavirus case was cited in Bexar County in March. De La Fuente, who had underlying health conditions that would be considered comorbidities, had not been notified of his test result before he died, Sheriff Javier Salazar said Thursday.
The Bexar County Adult Detention Center has struggled to control the spread of the coronavirus among the inmate population and among the guards who are charged with their care. As of Sunday, a total of 56 detention officers have tested positive for COVID-19 while 237 inmates also tested positive. The jail is currently undergoing mass testing of deputies and inmates; De La Fuente was tested last Tuesday under that initiative.
According to Salazar, De La Fuente reported to work on Tuesday and showed no symptoms that would have caused concern. He called in sick on Wednesday and was scheduled to seek medical treatment on Thursday, Salazar said.
“He enjoyed working with the Bexar County Sheriff,” said oldest sister Melinda De La Fuente at Mission Park Funeral Chapels on Southeast Military Highway, where her brother was transported Monday. “He was very happy in the job and had a lot of respect for all his coworkers and his chief.”
On Monday morning, around 100 cadets and officers met the escort procession at the funeral home to receive De La Fuente while a large video screen outside displayed a photo of him. As is custom, the sheriff’s office sent invitations to law enforcement agencies around the state, Simpson said, but acknowledged that during the coronavirus pandemic, “it’s going to be difficult to do something like that.”
Constables from Precincts 1, 2, and 4 attended, as well as members of the UT Health San Antonio Police Department, the San Antonio Police Department, and the Department of Public Safety.
The sheriff’s office is currently planning formal funeral services for the family, spokeswoman Adelina Simpson said. De La Fuente will be buried with full honors, recognized as someone who died while on duty.
“We’re trying to figure out how … to have people to pay their respects while also practicing social distancing,” she said. “We don’t have those plans finalized yet.”
In the past month, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has been providing masks and gloves to detention deputies and face masks to inmates at the county jail to help prevent further spread of the coronavirus. But that protective gear has done little to slow the infection as cases among inmates spiked after the county began more widespread testing. Positive results did dip on Sunday. The jail is testing all inmates and deputies, including asymptomatic ones, according to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
De La Fuente is survived by his wife and two sisters, Melinda and Sylvia De La Fuente Duran. His sister Melinda said he did not have children. She traveled from Corpus Christi when she heard of his death; Sylvia lives in San Antonio.
“It’s very hard to comprehend it all,” Melinda said of learning about her brother’s death. “I guess the realization of how contagious the disease is and how dangerous it can be – to maximize your protection even if you’re doing your [job], but you can never be too careful.”