The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 27, 2012

Lake Erie Correctional Institution prisoner dies of suspected overdose

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — An inmate at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution died over the weekend after a suspected drug overdose, according to the Ashtabula County coroner’s office.

Toxicology tests have been ordered to pinpoint exactly what killed Michael A. Nelson, 59, an inmate who hailed from the Painesville/Chardon area, Richard Mongell, chief investigator for the coroner’s office, said Monday. A preliminary cause of death has been deferred until test results are known, but a drug overdose is a “possible” cause, he said.

Foul play is not suspected, Mongell said.

Mongell said he was summoned to the prison at 4:18 a.m. Saturday, four minutes after Nelson was pronounced dead by Conneaut firefighters and emergency medical technicians. Prison staff also worked to resuscitate Nelson, who was found in his bunk, he said.

Firefighters were dispatched to the prison at 3:55 a.m., said Fire Chief Steve Lee.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating Nelson’s death, JoEllen Smith, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections spokeswoman in Columbus, said Monday. The OHP investigates all serious crimes that occur in Ohio’s prisons, including the privately owned LaECI.

The prison was purchased this year by Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville. In an email statement, Steve Owen, CCA’s senior director of public affairs — citing the on-going investigation — said “it would be premature to discuss the circumstances around the incident.”

CCA routinely takes strong measures to prevent drugs from entering its facilities, Owen said in the statement.

“The introduction of contraband, including drugs, is a daily challenge that every correctional facility in the country faces,” he said in the statement. “We take the safety and security of the inmates trusted to our care very seriously. To that end, we have a number of policies, practices and technologies that we utilize to prevent and reduce the introduction of contraband into the facility. While we cannot elaborate on all of these efforts for security reasons, some examples include both scheduled and random searches of inmates and buildings, random drug testing of inmates, as well as initial and ongoing training for staff on awareness, detection and prevention.”

Smith said the state is unaware of any unusual drug problems within the LaECI.

Nelson was serving an 18-month sentence for theft, according to information on the ODRC’s website. He entered the LaECI in February 2011. Nelson had also served terms for aggravated robbery and kidnapping, according to the website.

The LaECI, which opened in 2000, houses minimum- and medium-security inmates.