HURRICANE (ABC4 News) — Authorities say a 67-year-old inmate died in their custody Monday at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Southern Utah, but the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said there is “little evidence to support a correlation” between his death and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the inmate, identified as Russell Dwain McGonigle of St. George, died in jail custody, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher requested the Washington County Attorney’s Office Critical Incident Task Force investigate the incident.
Lt. Dave Crouse told ABC4 News he wants to give credit to the deputies who noticed McGonigle was unresponsive in the early hours of Monday morning in the booking area. Deputies immediately began live saving measures, but the inmate was pronounced dead on scene, according to officials.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to see an individual under a blanket or anything like that and say hey, is one of these 450 incarcerated individuals asleep or are they not?” Crouse said.
Authorities say McGonigle had several ongoing health conditions, but also say he was experiencing one symptom of COVID-19 at the time of his death. Due to his preexisting medical conditions, deputies housed him separately from staff and other inmates.
“At this point to our knowledge, there is nobody incarcerated at Purgatory Correctional Facility or any staff working in the facility who has the symptoms or are currently positive for COVID-19,” said Crouse.
Officials sent his body to the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner in Taylorsville for an autopsy, which will include a screening for COVID-19.
To protect any potential exposure to the virus, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office says it requires all staff to take and log their temperatures and stay home when sick. Deputies say all inmates are also medically screened prior to entering the facility.
“If they receive a medical clearance, and authorities still suspect it, they may be quarantined within the facility,” said Crouse.