GRANT COUNTY, Wash. — A veteran deputy with the Grant County Sheriff's Office tragically lost his brief battle with COVID-19 in December nearly one month before he was set to retire.
The sheriff’s office announced Deputy Jon Melvin's passing on Dec. 11, 2020. He was found by fellow deputies while they performed a welfare check after family members were unable to reach him.
His cause of death was attributed to coronavirus, Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones announced in a Facebook post on Jan. 11.
Chief Deputy Darrik Gregg was one of Melvin’s colleagues who worked with him for at least 15 years.
Melvin’s last shift before his death was Dec. 1, 2020 and he did not work from that point forward because he was sick, Gregg said. He spent several days at home before going to the doctor for a coronavirus test.
Gregg is responsible for tracking COVID-19 cases within the sheriff’s office, so he began talking with Melvin after he received a positive test result. Their last phone call was on Thursday, Dec. 10.
“When I talked to Jon, he didn’t sound well, so we’d sent a patrol deputy down to his house – just to make contact with him and check on him, and make sure that he was doing OK and not need anything,” Gregg said.
“And then the next morning on Dec. 11 is when we didn’t hear from him,” he continued. “I couldn’t get a hold of him, his family couldn’t get a hold of him.”
That’s when the sheriff’s office sent several deputies down to Melvin’s home who found that he had passed away overnight, Gregg said.
Grant County Deputy Jon Melvin
Gregg expressed regret about the days leading up to his friend’s death, saying that he had tossed around the idea of sending medical personnel to check on him.
“I didn’t because he kept telling me that he was fine and I just took his word,” Gregg said. “In hindsight, I kind of kick myself for not just saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to call you tomorrow and send them down there and check on you.”
If he could tell Melvin one thing now, Gregg said it would be, “Go to the doctor.”
“I would tell him, ‘Listen to your sister, your dad, your coworkers…go get checked out,” Gregg added. “Don’t wait. If you’re not feeling well, go to the doctor. So if I could talk to him one more time, I would have said, ‘Jon, I’m coming down there,’ or sent an ambulance because you’re going to the hospital.”
Melvin was experiencing many of the common COVID-19 symptoms, Gregg said. He suffered from a fever, shortness of breath and tightness in his chest. Gregg did not know if his friend suffered from underlying health conditions.
“He just wasn’t Jon. You could tell when you talked to him that he didn’t have that infectious laugh that everyone knew and he just was not where typically was on a daily basis when I was checking on him,” Gregg said.
Gregg could not say with certainty where Melvin contracted COVID-19. It is possible, though, that he may have caught the virus while on the job and Sheriff Jones considers his death line-of-duty, he added.
Melvin’s passing is the second line-of-duty death within the sheriff’s office after Deputy John Bernard died in a car crash in January 2010, Gregg said.
‘It’s tough [for] any agency that goes through it…whether it’s gunfire, crashing a car, COVID,” Gregg said. “When you lose somebody, it doesn’t matter what it was that took them. It’s tough.”
Melvin spent more than three decades in law enforcement
Melvin served for 35 years in law enforcement and was due to retire on Jan. 29, 2021 when he reached 36 years of service. He spent most of his career with the GCSO.
His sister, dad and son encouraged him to retire, but he “just couldn’t let go,” Gregg said. There was a running joke within the sheriff’s office that Melvin would have his retirement badge for several years, Gregg added.
Melvin was serving as a contract city deputy in the Desert Aire community in south Grant County, where he lived, before his death. He also briefly served as a school resource officer at Wahluke High School in Mattawa and a boating deputy for many years.
Gregg described him as “one of those guys that just wanted to keep going.”
“You knew that Jon was going to be there and he was going to do his job to the fullest. And he was probably the first guy and last guy to leave,” Gregg said. “He was one of those hard chargers and he did it his entire career for 36 years.”
Melvin’s legacy is one of a strong work ethic that will serve as an example to new employees of the sheriff’s office.
“He’s just left us with a lot of good things to remember and a lot of good things to chew on,” Gregg said. “He’s just one of those great guys.”
In his Facebook post, Sheriff Jones remembered Melvin as a "well-rounded, highly-skilled deputy whose intelligence was outweighed only by his compassion and willingness to always help others."
An incident management team has been established to plan Melvin’s memorial but the sheriff’s office does not know when it will be held due to COVID-19 restrictions.