He could not have seen it coming. It was totally unexpected. A teen-age driver of a stolen vehicle, with his pregnant teen-age girl friend by his side, being pursued at a high rate of speed by Sanger police struck his unmarked police vehicle broadside on the drivers side, fatally injuring Fresno Co. Deputy Sheriff Joshua C. Lancaster. He died at a local hospital on May 29, 2003. He had just celebrated his 27th birthday on May 10, 2003.
Tragically, for the third time in less than two years, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department had lost a valued member of the Department in the line of duty.
The driver of the stolen vehicle, nineteen year old Augustine A. Zapata, who suffered major injuries, was booked by proxy charging three counts of murder. In addition to Deputy Lancaster, Zapata’s teen-age girlfriend and her unborn baby also died in the crash.
Sheriff Richard Pierce described Lancaster as a “shining star” in the Department. The young Deputy had prepared himself well for a career in law enforcement. He had earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Bakersfield Community College, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Fresno State University majoring in criminology, where he met his bride to be, Heather.
Prior to entering the Sheriff’s Department in April, 2001, he had served as an investigator in the Fresno County District Attorney’s office.
Attesting to his professional competence on the job, in his short two-year tenure with the Department, he had been promoted to the rank of Deputy III and assigned as a Detective, investigating robbery and burglary complaints.
On a truly sad note, the young couple had been scheduled to move into their newly purchased home on May 29, 2003, the same day that Lancaster had died.
Typical of the camaraderie that exists in law enforcement, Lancaster’s fellow deputies responded in large numbers, consoling Heather and moving her into her new home.
On the morning of June 4, memorial services for Deputy Lancaster were conducted at the People’s Church in Fresno. In addition to Governor Gray Davis, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and Attorney General Bill Lockyer, joining family members, local and State dignitaries, brother and sister deputies, were several hundred peace officers representing a myriad of agencies statewide.
During the services for Lancaster, Sheriff Pierce said “that on occasion a price is paid for freedoms that society takes for granted. That price is painful because bad things happen to great people. Joshua Lancaster was a great Deputy Sheriff”.
Deputy Lancaster was remembered by others who were close to him as one who “often, joked with other deputies and helped everyone enjoy the job a little more, he was a good, fun-loving guy”. His training officer and supervisors described him as “Professional and Dedicated”.
Sheriff Pierce echoed the sentiments of everyone in the Department who had known Deputy Joshua C. Lancaster; “you will be missed, but never forgotten”.
Deputy Lancaster is survived by his bride of one year, Heather.