Heart disease was primary cause of Rock County Jail death

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Frank Schultz
Monday, March 20, 2017

JANESVILLE—Sheri Lynn Parker died at the Rock County Jail last year of a heart condition, and her long-time drug abuse was likely a contributing factor.

That's the conclusion of a forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on the 45-year-old Janesville resident.

No one was disciplined as a result of Parker's death, and no rules or procedures were changed, said Jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold.

The Rock County Sheriff's Office released its reports on the death in February in response to a request The Gazette made soon after the death on April 30, 2016.

Chellevold said many factors contributed to the long delay in producing the reports, including the lengthy time it takes for the medical examiner to get toxicology reports and internal sheriff's department procedures that require reviews by a number of officials.

The reports are voluminous, filling one large and one small binder.

Dr. Agnieszka Rogalska of the Rock County Medical Examiner's Department concluded the death was atherosclerotic heart disease, a condition commonly called hardening of the arteries.

The “significantly narrowed arteries” led to a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle, which caused an irregular heartbeat, leading to death, Rogalska wrote in her report.

The blockage ranged from 30 percent to 90 percent, Rogalska told sheriff's investigators who attended the autopsy.

Chronic substance abuse might have contributed to the death, both through alterations of the autonomic nervous system and through drug withdrawal, which could aggravate the cardiac and nervous systems, Rogalska wrote.

Parker had been a heroin addict and abused various prescription drugs and alcohol, according to the reports.

Rogalska found no injuries to Parker's body that would have contributed to her death.

Parker had been in jail for a probation violation. She had been found using drugs after the Department of Corrections placed her in a residential drug-treatment center in Madison, according to reports.

Jailers knew she was withdrawing from alcohol and Xanax, a drug used to treat anxiety and depression, reports indicate.

Jailers moved Parker to the medical unit on April 28 after she complained of stomach and chest pain.

The night of April 29, the doctor who remotely monitors jail patients for Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Dr. Karen Butler, ordered Parker be taken to a hospital.

Parker was seen by a Mercyhealth doctor at urgent care, who treated her for a urinary tract infection, according to reports. She was returned to her cell in the jail's medical unit around 12:36 a.m.

Jailers checked on her through the night, once waking her around 3:30 a.m. April 30, when she said she was OK, according to reports.

Chellevold said the checks were well within the state requirement that inmates be checked once an hour.

A jailer making her first rounds on the day shift found Parker unresponsive at 6:46 a.m., and the nurse and jailers used CPR and other measures until paramedics arrived to take over, reports indicate.

Parker never responded to the lifesaving efforts, which ended at about 7:12 a.m.

Parker's death was the second in the jail in a span of about eight months. Dante T. Wilson, 38, of Beloit, died there Aug. 17, 2015, also in the jail's medical unit.

Wilson died of atherosclerotic heart disease, the same condition that led to Parker's death.

He had complained of chest pains, and a nurse who was in charge of the medical unit at the time suspected he was suffering from indigestion and gave him antacid tablets. She was later fired.

In both cases, Rock County sheriff's detectives investigated, a standard procedure.

The Dane County Sheriff's Office conducted a review of Wilson's death because the public had requested it, Chellevold said. There was no request for an independent review of the investigation into Parker's death, he said.

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