Sheriff's Capt. Christopher John "Chris" Serpa, 52, a Tracy native who headed the custody division of the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department, died early Tuesday afternoon after suffering an apparent fatal heart attack during a noontime basketball game.
He and some of his colleagues were playing basketball behind the jail during their lunch hour when Serpa complained of shortness of breath and chest pain. He was accompanied to the locker room, where he collapsed and became unconscious.
Other officers applied cardiopulmonary resuscitation before paramedics and fire units arrived. Serpa was transported by ambulance to nearby San Joaquin General Hospital, where resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.
Serpa, a Lodi resident, had been a member of the sheriff's department 28 years and had headed the custody division the past two years.
He was raised in Tracy and graduated from Tracy High School in 1972. He attended San Joaquin Delta College before joining the sheriff's department in December 1977.
After being promoted to sergeant in 1986, Serpa served in the patrol, training, custody and internal-affairs divisions.
He became a lieutenant in 1998 and headed the honor farm and administrative units of the custody division. He was promoted to captain in March 2004, when he became commander of the custody division, which includes the jail, pretrial facility and honor farm.
A 2004 graduate of the FBI National Academy, he was recently nominated to the board of directors of the American Jail Association.
Sheriff Robert Heidelbach said Serpa's death was a shock to the department.
"Chris was a role model for what a member of our department should be," he said. "He was rock-solid."
Serpa maintained his ties to Tracy by taking part in Veterans Day and Memorial Day services as a member of the Sheriff's Department Honor Guard. For several years, he was an "Officer of the Year" judge for the Tracy American Legion Law and Order Night.
He is survived by his wife, Nora Serpa of Lodi; daughter, Noel and son, Anthony, both of Lodi; mother, Dolores Serpa of Tracy; father, John J. Serpa of Lathrop; sister, Gaylene Serpa of Tracy; and three brothers, Michael, Paul and John Serpa Jr.
Funeral services are pending.
First published: Wednesday, May 10, 2006