Deputies to honor brother, friend during Relay for Life
Published 6:29 pm Thursday, April 28, 2016
Two deputies with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office have teamed up to honor one of their own as Beaufort County gears up for this evening’s Relay for Life event in downtown Washington.
Capt. Jeremy Hewitt and Deputy Javier Meza have formed a Relay for Life team in memory of the late Alejandro “Alex” Jose Zapata, who died of cancer in 2012. Meza is Zapata’s brother and Hewitt is a good friend of the family, as well as a driving force behind Team Alex.
“Alex was a great friend and a loving and caring person who was strong in his Christian faith,” recalled Hewitt. “He was always in good spirits and he was always trying to help people the whole time he had cancer.”
Zapata’s longtime dream of becoming a patrol deputy was interrupted when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010. At the time he was working as a detention officer with the BCSO and was elated to be approved to start his basic law enforcement training. But with the cancer diagnosis, his dream was put on hold as he began treatment.
In November 2011, Hewitt recalled, Zapata’s doctors were convinced he was in remission. But a short time later he became sick again and tests showed the cancer had returned and spread throughout his body.
“Alex remained strong in his faith and was comforted in knowing he was saved through his faith in Christ,” Hewitt said. “Alex remained strong throughout his battle with cancer. He passed away on March 26, 2012, surrounded by his family and friends.”
Zapata left behind a wife and two daughters, as well as his parents, siblings and many friends.
Alan Jordan, then sheriff of Beaufort County, promoted the late Zapata to the rank of patrol deputy after his death; Zapata was buried in a uniform during a full law enforcement funeral, according to Hewitt.
Meza mourned the loss of his brother and in the process found himself on a new career path. He was already a detention officer, but his late brother inspired him to make a change.
“I was never interested in BLET, but when he passed away I decided to do it in his memory, to honor him,” Meza said.
“He was able to complete what his brother started,” Hewitt added.
Meza began pursuing his basic law enforcement training certification in 2013 and he graduated in May 2014. He is presently assigned to Washington High School as a school resource officer.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has long been active in local Relay for Life activities, including providing security for the annual event. But this year, Meza and Hewitt decided to make their contributions a bit more personal. Joined by Zapata’s family members, friends and former coworkers they began raising funds for the American Cancer Society.
A recent fundraiser put a different twist on collection donations. Team Alex prepared and sold 1,600 tamales for $1 a piece. Team members will gather at Festival Park on the Washington waterfront again tonight to raise more money; this time they plan to sell taquitos made fresh on site along with Mexican-style pork rinds and corn on the cob. Their Relay for Life tent will be festooned with photos of Zapata, his family and friends.
“We wanted to get the Meza family involved,” said Hewitt, who named his young son Alexander in honor of his late friend. “Our team includes his parents, wife, children and some members of the sheriff’s office.”
Meza said his goal is to make honoring his brother a Relay for Life tradition.
Donations in memory of Alex Zapata will be accepted during tonight’s Relay for Life activities; donations to Team Alex/Relay for Life of Beaufort County may also be made online at main.acsevents.org.