SANTA CRUZ -- A 47-year-old man died in Santa Cruz County Jail Tuesday night, the third inmate in four months to perish in the lockup.
The man's cause of death has yet to be determined, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Lt. Shea Johnson. However, the inmate told jail staff that he was having withdrawal symptoms from drug use. He was put on a "detox protocol," which included extra attention from the jail's medical staff, Johnson said.
"It's unfortunate because we have had three (deaths) in the last couple months," Johnson said. "It's really unusual for us."
Johnson said there was no evidence of criminal activity in the jail nor suspicious circumstances in his death.
The man, whose name has yet to be released, was arrested about 9:30 p.m. Sunday on suspicion of a probation violation, authorities said.
A jail staff member found the man unresponsive in his bunk bed about 6 p.m. Tuesday. Medical staff performed CPR on him. They were later relieved by Santa Cruz firefighters and American Medical Response paramedics. The man was declared dead about 6:40 p.m.
Johnson said a doctor screens every inmate when they are booked into jail. The inmate is asked questions about their drug use and potential for withdrawal symptoms so they can receive special attention.
Withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, headaches and other pain.
"Essentially they're trying to get all that stuff out of their system and there's some adverse
The coroner is expected to determine the man's cause of death and release it Thursday. Toxicology results are likely to take weeks.
One of the two other inmates who died since August also had problems with drugs.
On Aug. 25, 27-year-old Christy Sanders was serving a 60-day jail sentence for a probation violation. She had trouble breathing when another inmate summoned a staff member.
Paramedics tried to revive her before she was declared dead.
According to the Santa Cruz County Coroner, Sanders died of complications that included liver problems, hepatitis C and lung problems attributed to intravenous heroin abuse.
On Oct. 6, 59-year-old Rick Prichard was processed at the jail on suspicion of driving while impaired.
He collapsed during his booking and medical staff tried to resuscitate him before he died.
Prichard died of cardiovascular disease, a cardiac arrhythmia caused by occlusion of a coronary artery and underlying cardiovascular problems, according to the coroner.
In September, jail medical staff was outsourced to Monterey-based California Forensic Medical Group. About half of the previous staff continue to work at the jail, and a physician assistant and other administrative staff were added to help free up nurses. The number of medical staffers is about the same as it was before the change.
More medical services are now available at the jail, including sutures and X-rays.
"This medical staff that we have is outstanding," Johnson said.
Checks on patients had increased since the change, and if anything, care has improved, Johnson said. A check led to a quick evaluation of the man who was unresponsive Tuesday night, Johnson added.
"If they weren't doing checks on this guy, how long would he have laid there?" she asked.
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