The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 16, 2013

Tests confirm LaECI inmate died from heroin overdose

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Toxicology tests have confirmed an inmate at Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut died from a drug overdose last fall, according to the Ashtabula County coroner’s office.

Michael A. Nelson, 59, died from acute heroin intoxication, said Richard Mongell, chief coroner’s investigator. “It was a heroin overdose,” he said.

Nelson, who lived in the Painesville/Chardon area, died Nov. 24, authorities said. Nelson was found in his bunk inside one of the prison’s dormitories. Prison staff and Conneaut firefighters were unable to revive him.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating the death. A status report was not immediately available Friday from the OHP. Troopers investigate all serious incidents at Ohio prisons, including the privately-owned LaECI.

In a statement issued at the time, CCA spokesman Steve Owen said every effort is made to keep drugs out of its prisons, including searches of inmates and buildings, drug tests of inmates and other practices “to prevent and reduce the introduction of contraband into the facility.”

Owen added drug problems in prisons “is a daily challenge that every correctional facility in the country faces.”

A few weeks after Nelson’s death, neighbors reported numerous suspicious people in the vicinity of the prison who were arrested by police and charged with attempting to toss contraband over a section of fence to inmates inside. In early January, Daine Johnson, 22, of Cleveland, was caught trying to toss three duffle bags over the fence that contained — among other items — crack cocaine and marijuana. He faces two felony charges, according to court records.

Since those incidents, CCA announced stepped-up security at the prison, including an improved surveillance camera system.