Friday, April 11, 2008

Inmate's Death Unexplained

Elizabeth Eberhart, 25, dies after Polk deputies find her unresponsive in a cell.

By Jeremy Maready

BARTOW A 25-year-old woman Sunday became the third inmate in three months to die in the Polk County jail.

Elizabeth Eberhart of Sebring was found unresponsive in her cell in the jail's Special Needs Unit at 2:10 a.m. Sunday.

Deputies and medical staff members were not able to revive her, said Donna Wood, a spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff's Office. She was taken to Bartow Regional Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead about 3:05 a.m.

No cause has been determined for Eberhart's death. The two other recent inmate deaths were both suicides.

Eberhart had been arrested last month for violating her probation by leaving the county without permission.

Eberhart's probation stemmed from a July 2005 case in which she was found guilty of lewd and lascivious battery on a child younger than 16, Wood said.

Eberhart was picked up Feb. 23 when she called the Lakeland Police Department. She was taken to the Peace River Center for psychological evaluation that day.

A violation of probation order was issued by the Florida Department of Corrections two days later, and Eberhart was taken to the jail, officials said.

On March 2, Eberhart was taken to Bartow Regional Medical Center when she became unresponsive to questions and appeared unable to communicate because of suspected mental health issues, Wood said.

Eberhart remained at Bartow Regional until March 12, when she was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center for further psychological tests, reports said.

"She had exhibited some signs that indicated to our medical staff that she had been dealing with some mental issues," Wood said.

Discharged from LRMC with no specific medical diagnosis, she was returned to the Central County Jail on March 15, officials said.

After being assessed after entering the jail, Eberhart was taken to the Special Needs Unit.

The Special Needs Unit is for inmates who have drug or alcohol addictions, or who have identified themselves as mentally ill.

Eberhart was returned to the infirmary about 7:40 p.m. Saturday complaining of an upset stomach, Wood said. While in the infirmary, she took a shower on her own and was observed by medical staff members for two hours with no further indication of illness. She was cleared to be returned to her cell.

Detention deputies found her unresponsive about 2:10 a.m.

The Sheriff's Office is conducting an internal review and a death investigation, Wood said. Preliminary autopsy results did not find a conclusive cause of death, and more tests were needed. The State Attorney's Office will also review all of the investigations in the incident.

Another inmate in the Special Needs Unit died in December. James Mark Garry, 39, who was jailed on charges he tried to burn his ex-wife's duplex, hanged himself with the drawstring cord from a mesh laundry bag in that unit on Dec. 24.

On Jan. 15, another inmate hanged himself. David Spalding, 26, was in jail on charges that he violated his probation on a child sex abuse conviction.

Reviews of those two incidents by the State Attorney's Office confirmed the suicides as reported by deputies.

[ Jeremy Maready can be reached at 863-802-7592 or ]

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