HOUSTON -- Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader called Deputy Richard Whitten on Monday to share the good news: Whitten had just been named officer of the year by the 100 Club of Houston.
The deputy's phone went to voicemail. Rader never heard back.
Whitten, who was wounded in a 2019 shooting in Cleveland, was pronounced dead later in the day during a physical therapy session at the Texas Medical Center. He won't get a chance to accept his award from the 100 Club, but he died a "true hero," Rader said.
"He gave his heart, he gave his life and he was an awesome deputy," Rader said during a press conference on Monday in Houston.
Whitten was among four people who were shot May 29, 2019 at a plumbing company in Cleveland. The gunman, Pavol Vido, shot three employees at the business and fled. Whitten, who was responding to reports of gunfire, pursued Vido until the man bailed out of the car and started shooting.
Whitten was shot in the neck area, and Vido fatally shot himself as more law enforcement closed in, according to earlier reports in the Houston Chronicle. The bullet hit Whitten's spine, Rader said.
Sheriff's Office Capt. Ken DeFoor said Whitten appeared to suffer a heart attack during the physical therapy session at TIRR Memorial Hermann. Police escorted his body Monday night from the hospital to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
Whitten had been with the sheriff's office for four years. He gravitated toward a law enforcement career late in life, after convincing his wife Kami to let him join the ranks, Rader said.
He said Whitten became an asset that "everybody loved" in the department.
"He was an awesome person," Rader said. "During the therapy here at TIRR, he was doing amazing things. He was making big improvements."
Rader said funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.
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