Survivors Of Dead Inmate Sue County

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When Lawrence "Bud" Blaylock walked into Gila County Jail to serve a 10-day sentence Sept. 23, 2000, nobody suspected he had less than three days to live. Now, Gila County and other officials are being sued for their role in his death.

Two Gila County jailers transferred Blaylock, a former Star Valley resident, to the Globe jail after he had served one day of his sentence in Payson. Less than 72 hours later, he was discovered cold and dead on the floor of a holding cell.

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Lawrence "Bud" Blaylock

On-duty officers said there was nothing they could have done to prevent the death and that they had been monitoring Blaylock all night.

But now, about one month shy of the third anniversary of his death, Blaylock's family is taking Gila County and other officials to court.

Man down

Blaylock's wife, Joyce, said the 51-year-old drank too much gin, smoked too many cigarettes and was arrested in May 2000 for a DUI. His blood-alcohol-level was .15, almost double today's legal limit.

Aug. 15, 2000, Payson Justice Court Judge Ronnie McDaniel gave Blaylock to a 10-day sentence that began Sept. 22 in the Payson jail.

Blaylock was transferred with nine other prisoners to the jail in Globe the next day because he did not complete work release documents, according to a police report. Upon arrival, Blaylock was placed in a cell with several other inmates.

According to jail officers, Blaylock was experiencing alcohol withdrawals. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically include sweating, an increased heart rate, hand tremors, nausea, problems sleeping, agitation and anxiety.

In addition to withdrawing from alcohol, Blaylock was experiencing delirium tremens, according to police reports.

DTs are the most severe withdrawal symptoms and occur in about 5 percent of all cases. Symptoms include visual and tactile hallucinations, confusion, severe trembling, irritability and total body seizures.

The next day, inmates and officers reported Blaylock's behavior to be improved. But shortly after 3 p.m., Blaylock suffered a seizure, during which his head smashed on a telephone and metal table, said Blaylock's fellow inmates, who included Michael Heine.

Heine spoke to the Roundup in his Globe home Aug. 3.

"Bud started going into a seizure and started flopping around," said Heine, who had befriended Blaylock. "He had cut his head open and was bleeding severely."

Heine held Blaylock's head in his lap and maintained his airway throughout the seizure.

Heine said it took about five to 10 minutes for officers to respond to his cry of "We've got a man down," and other inmates waving towels in front of a camera monitor.

Once she arrived, detention officer Sandy Estrada advised Blaylock be taken to Cobre Valley Community Hospital in south Globe. She said when he came out of the seizure, he was combative.

Conflicting stories

At the hospital, emergency room doctor Carlin Bartschi diagnosed Blaylock with an alcohol withdrawal seizure, scalp and wrist abrasions, possibly from the fall, and chronic alcoholism with early dementia.

When Bartschi told Blaylock he should start taking medication for the seizures, Blaylock said he didn't want to, Bartschi wrote.

"I suggested to him again that he would be better served by beginning some anti-seizure medication," he wrote. "The patient adamantly refused to take any anti-seizure medication and became slightly agitated as a result of this suggestion, that we might be able to force it."

Bartschi said he never really considered forcing Blaylock to take medication. Bartschi and the hospital are also being sued by the Blaylock family.

When Blaylock returned to the jail later that day, he was placed in an individual holding cell on the opposite side of the facility from where he stayed with Heine and other inmates.

Estrada said she sent Blaylock there so he could be observed, as ordered by Bartschi. She said when he returned, Blaylock was "still extremely disoriented" and shortly thereafter, experienced another short seizure.

Estrada said she decided to put Blaylock on a medication list for librium, a sedative that combats alcohol withdrawals. She gave him his first dose after the seizure and said he "swallowed them with no problems."

No other incidents occurred until the next morning when Estrada returned to the jail at about 6 a.m., the time for Blaylock's second dose of librium. She reported she informed medical officer Felix Cordova of Blaylock's necessity for librium.

She said Blaylock refused medication, so Cordova left the cell.

"I feel that with assistance from us, we could have coerced him into taking his medication as we did the night before," she wrote.

Afterwards, Sgt. Kathy Johnson noticed Blaylock was not on the list of patients that were supposed to visit physician's assistant William Jones, one of Bartschi's directives, according to Bartschi.

She wrote in a Sept. 25 incident report that Cordova had stopped the librium order for Blaylock and that Blaylock was not on the list to see Jones.

"I asked (Jones) doesn't he usually see them after they have been taken to the hospital. He said yes," Johnson wrote. "That was the last I heard from Jones concerning Mr. Blaylock."

Cordova and Jones no longer work at the jail and were not able to be contacted by the Roundup.

In the meantime, Blaylock, who had not taken any more librium or been seen by a doctor, was kicking and hitting cell walls and yelling obscenities, officers reported.

From the night of Sept. 25 until about 6:30 a.m. Sept. 26 when Blaylock was found dead, stories of officers and inmates conflict.

All officers on duty during the night reported Blaylock as laying on the floor of his cell, unmoving but breathing.

Officers wrote that they checked on Blaylock every five to 10 minutes or so throughout the night, either by looking in his cell or by watching a video monitor, but that his condition never changed.

"He was breathing fine and appeared to finally be resting after 48 hours of being up," Johnson wrote. "This is all usual for someone with DTs as far as we have experienced in this jail."

Officer Violeta Johnson reported seeing Blaylock breathing at about 6:10 a.m. Aug. 26. Officer Kathy Hedges said she found Blaylock's unmoving body at about 6:20 a.m. Minutes later, officer Tony Tarango said Blaylock did not have a pulse and that his body was cold.

However, inmates, including Heine, passed by Blaylock's cell at 4 a.m. said he was dead then and had been for a while.

"I saw him lying there in an unnatural position. And he appeared to be dead for three or four hours," Heine said. "I know enough about rigor mortis to know that the muscles pull and jerk and twist. Legs don't just pop up. I'd say he died between midnight and 2 a.m."

So does Blaylock's family and their attorney.

What now?

On Aug. 15, 2004, attorney David J. Don and the Blaylock family will face Gila County, former Sheriff Joe Rodriguez, Cobre Valley Community Hospital and Bartschi in the federal district court in Phoenix.

"What happened was indifference of the jail administrators to medical care in the jail, the disregard of the detention officers who were obligated to care for him," Don said. "I think that it's hard to fathom how they could be watching this guy with any degree of concern and when by the time they find him next morning, he's discovered by inmates passing by and his body is already cold."

Pima County Forensic Pathologist Bruce O. Parks ruled Blaylock's death to be caused by a subdural hematoma due to blunt force trauma to the head. Seizures often lead to hematomas, which are collections of blood on the surface of the brain and are the most lethal of all head injuries.

Rodriguez said officers did nothing wrong and could not have prevented Blaylock's death.

All four defendants in the lawsuit are being represented by private law firms. The family is not suing for a specific amount of money. Don said it will allow the jury to decide and that he expects the trial to last 10 or 12 days.

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