FANNETT, Texas — The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office is mourning the loss of a deputy who they said was one of the finest to ever come through the office.
Deputy James Lee was off duty when he was hit and killed by a speeding car while mowing his lawn Saturday night. Deputy Lee was 71 when he died.
Deputy Lee started with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in 1973. He temporarily left the office, came back in 2002 and had been the with the office ever since.
Sheriff Zena Stephens told 12News Deputy Lee was also a Marine and had no upcoming plans of retiring from the sheriff's office.
“We don't have a lot of 70-year-old guys working in law enforcement, but to look at Jim and to look at his production at his job, you would've never known that,” Sheriff Stephens said.
Deputy Lee was described as someone who enjoyed going to work to protect the Jefferson County community. He was tough but always showed compassion.
His loss is one the sheriff’s office is having a hard time digesting
“You don't expect people not to show back up at work on a Monday because they got hit while they were cutting grass in their front yard,” Sheriff Stephens said.
Sheriff Stephens is trying to make sense of how someone like Deputy Lee could lose his life in such an unexpected way.
“To die in that manner, a manner that could have been prevented or avoided, doesn't make it easier,” Sheriff Stephens said. “Makes it more difficult I think."
Lee leaves behind his wife and son, James. His son was set to start working at the sheriff's office in corrections on Friday, July 15, 2022.
Deputy Lee had been looking forward to his son's starting day for a while.
"To have Jim's life cut short and him not get to experience, I think one of the greatest joys for him to see his son follow in his footsteps, that's one of the most difficult things right now for me, and the fact that we're going miss him," Sheriff Stephens said.
Deputy Lee most recently served in the fugitive warrant division. It was there he met his supervisor Bradford Lowe.
"I've never seen him have a bad day,” Lowe said. “You know what I'm saying. If he did, you couldn't tell. He was just a good guy."
Lowe worked with Deputy Lee for six years and said he was always the first one in and last one out.
"He was still working late to try to execute a warrant,” Lowe said. “That's how he was man. He would stay on it until he got the job done."
The tragic accident that took his life was preventable, Sheriff Zena Stephens told 12News.
Michael Miller is the man accused of Lee's death. Investigators believe Miller was driving while intoxicated at the time of the deadly crash.
Miller is charged with intoxication manslaughter and unlawful carry of a weapon. He is currently being held in the Jefferson County Jail on bonds totaling more than $250,000.
Sheriff Stephens said Deputy Lee's death will be felt by more than just the Southeast Texas community. His loss will be felt around the world.
"This is a tremendous loss for our country in my opinion,” Sheriff Stephens said. “For our community and certainly for this agency and his family."