Sonoma County Sheriff correctional lieutenant dies from COVID-19 complications

Bobby Travelstead died Wednesday at a Sonoma County hospital. His death is being considered a “line-of-duty death,” meaning he contracted the virus at work, according to the Sheriff’s Office. He was 40.|

A veteran Sonoma County correctional officer sickened by the coronavirus amid an outbreak of cases affecting inmates and employees at the county jail died Wednesday of complications of COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday.

Correctional Lt. Bobby Travelstead, 40, died at a local hospital. He was the second Sonoma County peace officer to die of COVID-19.

“For our office, as a whole, we’re making do with the best we can. It’s not something that was expected. Bobby was relatively young,” said Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram, who oversees corrections. “It’s difficult. He was well-liked throughout the division and it takes a toll on the people who work here.”

Travelstead was respected on the job but also had a full life outside of his career, colleagues said. He was devoted to his two teenage daughters, supporting their participation in cheerleading, basketball and volleyball. He coached baseball at Windsor High School for at least two seasons and was eager to assist people at any opportunity, co-workers said.

“Bobby had a heart of gold, man,” said Capt. Chad McMasters, who met Travelstead in 2007, when he joined the Sheriff’s Office. “He was loving, fun, always positive and upbeat.”

It was Travelstead’s sincerity that drew people to him, said Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Merchen, who was Travelstead’s direct boss.

He had a great laugh, an ear for people’s stories and a soft spot for other’s strengths — qualities that helped him shine in a Sheriff’s Office mentoring program and served him well as a recruit training officer at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Basic Police Academy, Merchen said.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia said officials believe Travelstead was infected at work and his case has been dubbed a “line-of-duty death.”

Valencia said the Sheriff’s Office was informed on July 31 that Travelstead had been hospitalized for COVID-19. That was about one week after a COVID-19 outbreak started at the Sonoma County Jail, infecting 31 inmates and resulting in the quarantine of 12 staff.

Valencia said he did not know if Travelstead was among the staff who were quarantined during that outbreak or if he contracted the virus at the jail.

He said at the jail, there are currently three confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and another 13 are under quarantine for possible exposure. Valencia said that as of Thursday, there are five jail staff in quarantine, but he did not have any information about whether they have tested positive.

“It is considered a line-of-duty death,” Valencia said. “But to be specific, I don’t know exactly when and where. I don’t have that information. That would be a question for public health.”

Within local law enforcement, his death follows that of Santa Rosa Police Detective Marylou Armer, 44, who on March 31, 2020 was the first California peace officer to die of COVID-19 complications.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to say whether Travelstead was vaccinated against COVID-19 or whether he had underlying health conditions, citing medical privacy rules.

Travelstead started 14 years ago with the Sheriff’s Office as a correctional deputy. He was promoted to sergeant in 2014 and lieutenant in 2019.

As Travelstead’s manager, Merchen said he could always rely on Travelstead’s work, his mentoring and how he trained staff.

As a friend, he was everything you could want, Merchen said. Struggling with a loss so close, Merchen found it too hard to share personal stories, but he called Travelstead “one of the most remarkable men that you would ever meet.”

Engram said the two met not long after Travelstead joined the department and got to know each other when they attended training to become sergeants. Travelstead was humble, Engram said.

“He wasn’t one of those people who tell you ‘I done this’ or ‘I done that’ and brag about his career. He went about his job and did it well,” Engram said.

The department sounded a similar note in its announcement of Travelstead’s death.

“Throughout his career at the Sheriff’s Office, Bobby was very involved in the Peer Support Program and truly understood the importance of taking care of each other,” the office said in a written statement. “Bobby’s personality and sincerity made him a well-liked co-worker and respected leader.”

Travelstead grew up in Galatia, Illinois. and attended college at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee. While there, he played for the college baseball team.

Having grown up just two hours from St. Louis, he rooted for the Rams on the gridiron and the Cardinals on the diamond.

“Anytime the Cardinals came to San Francisco, Bobby was there and brought his daughters along,” McMasters said.

Before starting his law enforcement career, Travelstead served five years with the Navy. He was a field medical corpsman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force during the Iraq War and was deployed to Southeast Asia during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi said she was shocked to learn of Travelstead’s death Thursday. Pozzi said she often worked the lieutenant and that he was always responsive to her clients’ concerns, no matter how small.

Travelstead was a “great criminal justice partner” — easy to work and clearly concerned about the welfare of her clients in custody, she said.

She had reached out to Travelstead about the second week of August and was told that he was out and that it was not clear when he would be back.

“I just assumed it was an extended vacation,” she said. “It’s very sad. He’s very young. I mean, he’s very young and healthy looking. I’m just shocked. I had no idea.”

Pozzi noted the heavy impact of the pandemic on the local criminal justice system, including superior court and the county jail. She said her clients and legal staff have been saddled with anxiety and fear during recent outbreaks.

“It’s just scary, and now to find out that Bobby was sick and hospitalized,” Pozzi said.

Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins said Travelstead’s death is a reminder that the pandemic is ongoing, and she expressed condolences for his daughters and colleagues at the Sheriff’s Office.

“I know that it is like a family over there and the loss of one person is really felt by all,” Hopkins said.

Staff Writer Matt Pera contributed to this report.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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