Va. man who died in custody suffocated, report concludes

January 23, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

Suffocation caused the death of a 24-year-old Virginia man who died in Howard County police custody shortly after being arrested for allegedly abusing an infant Christmas Eve, a report from the state medical examiner's office said Friday.

Police had originally attributed the death of Jose Inez Melendez of Alexandria, Va., to respiratory failure.

The medical examiner's report also confirmed original claims by police that Mr. Melendez's blood alcohol concentration of 0.34 -- three times the legal limit for intoxication -- contributed to his death.

According to the report, Mr. Melendez, strapped to a stretcher by fire and rescue personnel, suffered "compressional and positional asphyxiation." His obesity, combined with his intoxication, played a part in his death, the report said.

Dr. John Smialek, chief state medical examiner, said his office weighed evidence from an autopsy, toxicology tests and police information. "We reviewed all evidence and reached a conclusion," he said.

County police and fire and rescue departments are continuing their own internal investigations into the death. Dr. Smialek said he will review the conclusions of those investigations and compare them with his office's findings.

The incident began about 11:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, when Howard County police arrived at Mr. Melendez's relatives' home at the Deep Run Mobile Home Park in Jessup, in response to a call from them about his behavior.

Relatives told police Mr. Melendez had thrown his 18-month-old son to the floor, causing facial and head injuries. The child was treated at Howard County General Hospital and released.

A struggle ensued when officers tried to arrest Mr. Melendez, police said. Two officers suffered minor injuries in the struggle, // and Mr. Melendez was transported to Howard County General for a possible shoulder injury.

By 12:30 a.m. Christmas Day, when he arrived at the hospital, Mr. Melendez was unresponsive and in respiratory arrest, emergency officials said. He was pronounced dead shortly after that.

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