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Sheriff asks state police to review jail deaths for prevention

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The death of a Johnson County jail inmate over the weekend was due to natural causes, an autopsy showed.

Thomas A. Wyss, 59, Whiteland, collapsed and died at the jail on Sunday. The preliminary results the autopsy done Tuesday showed Wyss died of multi-organ failure, and his death has been ruled a natural death, Coroner Craig Lutz said.

Wyss is the third jail inmate to die this year. Two previous deaths at the jail in May and August led the sheriff to ask Indiana State Police to look into procedures at the Johnson County jail.

While no wrongdoing is suspected, Sheriff Doug Cox said, he wants to do everything possible to prevent future deaths.

The first two deaths were ruled suicides. After the second death last month, Cox asked the Indiana State Police to review the jail’s procedures and officials’ responses to the deaths to see if anything at the jail needs to be changed.

“The whole purpose with Indiana State Police is to take a look and see if they have anything to offer up or see if there’s anything we missed that we need to change on a day-to-day basis,” Cox said.

Cox has not decided if he will ask state police to also look into Wyss’ death over the weekend.

On Aug. 1, Charles Thomas Blessing, 30, was found hanging in his cell; and James Wilkerson, 42, died of asphyxiation in May, days after swallowing an unknown amount of toilet paper.

Any time an inmate dies at the jail, sheriff’s office investigators conduct a death investigation, just as they would if a body were found elsewhere in Johnson County. Investigators reviewed surveillance footage and interviewed those who had seen Blessing and Wilkerson before they died, Cox said.

Wyss’ death also will be investigated by the sheriff’s office.

Neither Blessing nor Wilkerson was on suicide watch while at the jail, and jailers and emergency workers tried to resuscitate the men when they were found. Wilkerson started breathing again and was taken to Johnson Memorial Hospital, where he stayed for several days before dying from the trauma his body had been through. Blessing, who was found within about 30 minutes of his death, couldn’t be resuscitated.

No jail employees were disciplined after the earlier deaths, and Cox doesn’t anticipate any disciplinary action following Wyss’ death. But he wants state police to either verify that everything possible is being done to keep inmates at the jail safe or to tell officials what can be done differently. It’s unclear how long the state police investigation could take, Cox said.

“We’ll listen to them; and if they’ve got some good ideas, we’ll implement them,” Cox said. “I don’t like that I have any deaths in my jail.”

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