Crash victim was rebuilding home hit by tornado

January 8, 2014

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John Paul (J.P.) Zapata’s path to restoring a suitable home for his family was left unfinished when he was killed in a one-vehicle accident early on New Year’s Day.

The 36-year-old Hood County man was pronounced dead at the scene after his Chevrolet Avalanche failed to negotiate a curve on Fall Creek Highway near Victorian Court, according to DPS Senior Trooper Dub Gillum.

J.P., his wife Ruth and their children survived a close brush with death when the May 15 tornado heavily damaged their home in the 3400 block of Tumbleweed Lane in the hard-hit Ranch Brazos subdivision.

Three of their children – Anna, 18, Zeke, 12, and Noe, 7 – had taken refuge along with J.P. and Ruth in their bathtub just before the tornado nearly blew away their house.

It also heavily damaged their two vehicles, which they both needed in order to go to work. They were presented with a refurbished Chevrolet Camaro free of charge by Project-44. Later, the Zapatas gave back that Camaro and instead took the keys to a Chevrolet Avalanche – the one he was driving when the accident occurred.

The Habitat for Humanity home where they lived was totaled. Zapata was using his own construction skills, along with help from others such as fellow church members at Acton Baptist Church, to spread out the insurance money enough to build a larger home in that same location. They were living in a temporary rent house on Fall Creek Highway until the home could be completed.

“He was halfway through building it,” said Project-44 founder Ben Fields, who hired Zapata to be full-time farm manager for Project-44’s organic vegetable farm in late June.

“Without his additional labor, I don’t know if they will have enough funds to make it bigger,” Fields said. “The family is stuck with a half-built house.”

But Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Carol Davidson said later Monday afternoon that she believes there will be enough insurance money to finish the home.

“We’ve got some people meeting with them. There may be enough (money). We’re waiting on a quote from the builder,” Davidson said. “We’re hoping she (Ruth) will get back in as quickly as possible, and we’re going to make every effort to help her with that. I know their church can raise money if they need more.”

Davidson said that the insurance money won’t cover building a larger house than the original, and that’s also not something Habitat does.

Ben Fields’ wife Margret, pastor of outreach at Acton Methodist Church and administrative director of Project-44, said Zapata was suited to being farm manager for the nonprofit group, but not because of cropgrowing skills.

Instead, it was because of “his belief in the work we were doing and his commitment to what we were doing,” she said.

Zapata was handy around the farm and was learning more about growing crops, but he was hired more “for his heart for God,” Margret Fields said.

Ben Fields said although Zapata’s primary career had been in rock work, he had been working for a tree service when he took the job as farm manager for Project-44, which supplies local food pantries for people in need.

“He understood what we were about and the point of Project-44,” Ben Fields said. “He was really a strong Christian, and kind of was on the same page there. He had a grasp of the whole concept.”

He said after he got a call from Margret shortly before noon on Jan. 1 breaking the bad news of Zapata’s death, he got a sick feeling “because I knew he’s got children at home. It’s a horrible, horrible loss for his family. How do you move forward? It’s just going to be really hard.

“He was really a good, strong Christian guy. He had a good work ethic. He loved his wife and children, and he had a great future ahead of him.”

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