MIDDLETON – An autopsy report released by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner concludes that a Middleton Jail inmate who died there in early May, roughly five days after his arrest on drug charges, succumbed to an accidental drug overdose.
Richard Pike, 51, a homeless man from New Hampshire, was rushed to Beverly Hospital on May 2 after going into cardiac arrest in the jail infirmary. Infirmary staff performed CPR to stabilize him, but he was soon pronounced dead at the hospital.
He had been at the Manning Avenue jail for about five days awaiting trial on heroin and fentanyl trafficking charges.
State medical examiner Andrew Elin’s recent report concluded that Pike died of accidental “acute intoxication due to the combined effect of fentanyl, 4-ANPP, and benzodiazepines.”
The substance 4-ANPP is a derivative of fentanyl and benzodiazepines found in his bloodstream, which also included oxazepam and nordiazepam. Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety.
The report also suggests chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD; emphysema; high blood pressure and narrowed arteries contributed to Pike’s death.
Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said this week he couldn’t comment on the medical examiner’s findings because he had not seen the autopsy report. But Coppinger said he would look at the report and if something irregular were found, it would be investigated.
“These things do happen in correctional facilities,” Coppinger said of the inmate’s death.
Pike and Brittany N. Quint, 33, of Dover, New Hampshire, were arrested April 27 after a traffic stop on Interstate 95 in Amesbury and charged with heroin trafficking, fentanyl trafficking and conspiracy to violate drug laws. Police seized 40 grams of heroin with a street value of up to $4,000 and 28 grams of fentanyl valued at $2,800.
At Pike’s arraignment April 29, he appeared in pain as a clerk read the charges against him. Eventually, the judge told Pike he could sit during his arraignment.
In a letter to Dave Earle, Middleton Jail’s director of security, Assistant Director of Security Jon Campbell wrote that in the early hours of May 2, Pike was escorted to a nurse’s station after telling guards he was having difficulty breathing.
As medical staff began examining him, Pike laid on the floor and remained there until the staff brought him to his feet and placed him in a chair. Pike went to the ground again and resisted efforts to be put back in the chair. He was then fitted with hand restraints and placed in the chair. After Pike calmed down, the restraints were removed.
“Shortly after this, inmate Pike becomes unresponsive and officers begin CPR,” Campbell’s letter reads. “The CPR continues to be done by officers until Middleton Fire Department arrives. Middleton Fire Department takes over the care of inmate Pike and places equipment on him and then place him on a stretcher. Middleton Fire Department then exits the area with inmate Pike.”
Later that morning, Middleton Jail staff were informed that Pike died at or while on the way to Beverly Hospital.
Campbell then began receiving phone calls from the inmate’s family, asking him to confirm that Pike died.
“I informed him (Pike’s brother) that Richard did in fact pass away. (Pike’s brother) asked me what happened, and I informed him that Richard suffered some sort of medical issue and that I did not know the exact reason,” Campbell’s letter says.
Pike’s sister, Nancy Marcotte, expressed skepticism with the jail’s explanation.
In an e-mail to the newspaper in May, Marcotte said she and her family were stunned by the news and trying to get an investigation of what took place before Pike died.
“I know my brother had a problem but he was a good man and I will dig till hell freezes to find out what happened to him,” Marcotte wrote.
In a phone interview Friday, Marcotte said she believed his death could have been avoided, adding that she believes staff members gave him benzodiazepines to calm him down while he struggled. But because he was withdrawing from fentanyl, the drugs caused him to have a heart attack.
“I have a right to know what medical treatment he received while in there,” Marcotte said.
Coppinger wouldn’t comment specifically on Pike’s death, saying he was not at liberty to do so. He did say the Sheriff’s Department was constantly on the lookout for smuggling, drugs or any other banned items.
“We’re always combating illegal contraband looking to get into the jail,” he said.
Coppinger admitted it was complicated and virtually impossible to keep all drugs out of the facility.
“It’s a challenge because people get creative,” Coppinger said.
Inmates will sometimes swallow drugs before entering the jail, family members will mail drugs to inmates, and inmates will exchange drugs during court appearances.
“We do our best and we will prosecute those who bring it in,” he added.
Coppinger said it appears there was no foul play involved and no evidence of drug use in jail. Coppinger added that Pike came to the jail with pre-existing medical conditions.
The sheriff said that because there are as many as 1,400 inmates at the jail, deaths do occur.
“It’s not unusual, but it doesn’t happen every day,” he said.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.