Tarrant County sergeant likely died of pulmonary embolism, medical examiner says

There was unease in the first police descriptions from a downtown parking lot late Friday.

A Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office deputy was found dead inside his car, discovered when he did not return from a break to his job at the county jail across the street.

Police jammed the blocks around what they believed might be a crime scene at Weatherford and Burnett streets. Officers wearing ballistic helmets and carrying shotguns stood at doorways and walked sidewalks. Detectives focused on blood outside and inside the car.

It became clear Saturday that Sgt. Keith Shepherd’s death was not what it first appeared and was not criminal. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that, at the foot of his car, Shepherd suffered a pulmonary embolism.

Shepherd, 58, fell to the parking lot and struck his head, Sheriff Bill Waybourn said. He recovered slightly and got inside his car, where a sheriff’s office employee found him. A shift commander had been looking for Shepherd.

A star-shaped wound on Shepherd’s head and significant bleeding led the person who found Shepherd to think that he had been shot, Waybourn said.

“Everybody initially did think the worst,” Waybourn said. “And fortunately we don’t have a killer out there running loose. Unfortunately, Sergeant Shepherd had a medical emergency and did not survive it.”

Shepherd was a 18-year veteran of the sheriff’s office detention bureau.

His was one of three local law enforcement officer deaths in eight days. Grand Prairie Police Officer A.J. Castaneda died June 7 when he was struck by a vehicle as he stood outside his car. On Saturday, North Richland Hills police announced 25-year-old Officer Caleb Rainey died. The cause of his death was not known, police said, but he had been ill.

Shepherd is survived by his wife, Veronica, and two daughters, Keisha and Kristina. He was pronounced dead at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

A police processional left the Medical Examiner’s office Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth and drove to Wade’s Funeral Home in Arlington. Memorial service arrangement information had not been released Saturday night.

“He was a strong leader,” Waybourn said of Shepherd as he announced his death Friday. “He was loved. He was a great husband and a good father.”

Hundreds of police officers from across the state traveled to Castaneda’s funeral Thursday in Dallas.

Officers spoke of police agencies being like a family and supporting each other amid tragedies.

“All police departments, regardless of what they are, are a family,” Dallas Community College District Police Department Sgt. John Abbott said before the funeral Thursday. “And it’s our job to support every officer, no matter what department they’re from.”

Waybourn spoke Saturday during a flag football tournament honoring Garrett Hull, a Fort Worth officer killed in September 2018 by a man suspected in a series of robberies.

“Each time these awful things happen,” Waybourn said, “it is our job to continue to press on and to celebrate the life of the great people we stand on the shoulders of.”

Reporters Jack Howland, Luke Ranker and James Hartley contributed to this story.