The Alameda County Sheriff's Office is mourning Deputy Oscar Rocha, a nearly 25-year department veteran from Danville who died on Thursday evening from complications caused by COVID-19.
The sheriff's office confirmed "with tremendous sadness" late Thursday night on social media that Rocha died at 6:45 p.m. "He put up a courageous fight to the end and will never be forgotten. May he rest in eternal peace. EOW 7/23/20," officials said.
The news came about two weeks after the sheriff's office revealed Rocha was hospitalized in the intensive care unit with a life-threatening case of COVID-19, sharing a photograph of the deputy's hand holding another in the hospital bed and offering a message of support for their colleague.
The 57-year-old Tri-Valley native, who spent the better part of a month in the ICU at John Muir Medical Center, is the first member of the ACSO to die from COVID-19, according to Sgt. Tya M. Modeste. His wife Maureen Ennor Rocha was also hospitalized because of the virus but has recovered.
"He was a well-known deputy, well-liked," said Modeste, who worked alongside Rocha earlier in her career.
"He was a really hard worker. He loved being a deputy-sheriff," the sergeant added. "He was very passionate about the work that we do, and that people were doing the job the way they were supposed to do."
Rocha had been assigned to the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland but he had been working shifts at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin under mandatory overtime for deputies due to staffing levels. Modeste said it's "highly probable" that Rocha became infected while working at the jail, likely in the late-May timeframe.
"We do believe that is where he contracted it … His passing is being considered in line of duty," the sergeant said.
Personnel from the ACSO, including Sheriff Gregory Ahern, and other allied agencies saluted Rocha as his body, draped in the USA flag, was wheeled on a gurney through the ambulance bay at John Muir Medical Center on Thursday night, Modeste said. A procession of law enforcement vehicles nearly a mile long followed behind as his body was transported from Walnut Creek to his department's coroner's bureau in Oakland.
Plans are in the works to potentially livestream Rocha's memorial service and offer a traditional final salute with social distancing, according to the sergeant.
Flags at the State Capitol in Sacramento will be flown at half-staff to honor Rocha as well as Los Angeles Police Department Officer Valentin Martinez, 45, who died Friday from COVID-19, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
"The deaths of these two heroes is a very real and painful reminder of the risks these men and women face every single day protecting the people of California. Jennifer and I extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Deputy Rocha and Officer Martinez as they grapple with these tremendous losses," Newsom said in a statement Saturday.
Condolences, remembrances and well wishes have poured into the ACSO since Rocha's death, Modeste said. Many have been shared on social media, too.
"Our hearts are heavy today with the news Deputy Oscar Rocha has passed away. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Rocha family. He will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace," Dublin Police Services wrote on Twitter.
Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston tweeted, "My sympathies and condolences to the family and colleagues of Alameda County Deputy Sheriff Oscar Rocha who passed away last night from COVID-19 complications. Thank you for your service."
"Our thoughts today are with the family, friends, and colleagues of Alameda County Sheriff‘s Deputy Oscar Rocha," the town of Danville account tweeted.
Rocha is survived by his wife Maureen Ennor Rocha, his son Alexander Rocha, stepchildren Haley and Patrick Urbanus, and his parents Oscar and Rosario Rocha.
Rocha and his wife knew each other since they were 14 years old but married later in life. They graduated from California High School in San Ramon.
Rocha worked for the sheriff's office since graduating from the police academy in 1996, according to Modeste. He worked in the detention/corrections and court services division, as well as formally served in the now-defunct marshal's unit.
The sergeant remembered her colleague as a happy family man who "never became jaded" by the hard work in courtrooms often presiding over difficult cases such as murders or sexual assaults.
"He was a calm-spirited kind of guy," Modeste said.
His wife reported they were adhering to shelter-in-place restrictions, wearing personal protective equipment and responding only to and from work, which made the initial COVID-19 diagnosis even more distressing, according to Modeste. Maureen Ennor Rocha was hospitalized for 10 days because of the virus and has recovered.
Like many of those who knew Rocha, Modeste said she is coming to terms with his death amid the pandemic.
"It's surreal. I stayed up all night last night," she said. "It's shocking, and it brings COVID-19 a little more into the real … having a person you know (die) brings a different type of realness to it."