Bexar County honors a fallen deputy, then sues his widow

Read the full Defenders investigation here. Watch the full story on KSAT 12 News this evening at 6:30 p.m.

It’s a name you’ve probably heard before: Deputy Timothy De La Fuente of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

He was the first first-responder to contract and die from COVID-19 in our area.

It started on his shift in April of 2020 at the Bexar County Jail with a dry cough.

But within three days the Deputy found himself at his North-side home, unable to move, as his wife struggled to help him and paramedics clambered into hazmat suits on his front lawn.

Deputy De La Fuente never made it out the door, much less to a hospital.

His widow Pauline remembers.

“And when I took his glasses off and I was looking at him, I looked in his eyes and my husband was gone”, she said. “He wasn’t breathing. There was nothing behind those eyes.”

A COVID-19 test soon came back positive and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office quickly labeled his passing as an on-duty death.

Next came an honor procession and tribute after tribute for the 27-veteran of BCSO, in both Bexar County and across the nation.

From one ceremony to the next, Pauline struggled to hold her life together as she swam in grief.

“Figuring out how to get my lawn cut, take the trash out, bills,” she said. “My husband took care of all of that.”

An Unwelcome Surprise

Two years later Pauline got some startling news, namely, that Bexar County was suing her in court to cut off the widow’s benefits along with actually wanting to be repaid the cost of cremating her husband.

The suit filed in state district court was the latest attempt to keep Pauline from collecting death benefits at the county level.

“My husband gave almost 28 years to the citizens of Bexar County, he worked there more than half his life,” she told us.

However, for the County, that was not the issue.

Court documents show Bexar County administrators are making several claims, including-

1. That Deputy De La Fuente did not contract COVID-19 during the scope of his employment for Bexar County.

2. That Pauline was not Deputy De La Fuente’s spouse at the time of his death.

The problem?

Texas state law has established that for first responders, COVID-19 is a ‘presumptive illness’, meaning if a first responder contracts the virus it is presumed that he or she got it on-duty.

Also, Pauline and Timothy had lived together for more than 14 years, which easily fits the Texas definition of a common-law marriage.

“The fact that the county continues to deny this claim is shameless, it’s disgusting. It’s like my husband didn’t exist,” Pauline told us.

So why is this happening? And how do Bexar County officials justify their lawsuit?

For more on the story of the pending case, tune in to KSAT 12 on Tuesday 5/17 at 6:30 p.m. for Dillon Collier’s investigative report.

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