Autopsy Determines Carroll County Inmate Died Of Natural Causes

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BERRYVILLE (KFSM)- An inmate at the Carroll County Detention Center, who died in November 2014, died of natural causes, according to a report from the Arkansas Crime Lab.

Sylvia Donelson, 47, was pronounced dead on November 11, 2014, at 11:13 p.m. at Mercy Hospital in Berryville, records show. Her autopsy states her cause of death was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease with bipolar disorder listed as a contributing cause.

According to jail incident reports, the day Donelson died Capt. Alan Hoos was notified at about 8 a.m. that her psychological condition was deteriorating and that she had not eaten or taken her medication for 24 hours.

Donelson’s vitals were deemed normal by a detention center nurse. She was given fluids and food along with medication, and the jail staff was instructed to monitor her, reports show. At about 2 p.m., Hoos was notified that Donelson was becoming less responsive, and an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team was called in to evaluate her, according to reports.

sylvia donelson funeral home pictures

Picture of Sylvia Donelson from the Smith Family Funeral Home website.

After checking her vitals, EMS determined they were normal and advised jail staff that she didn’t need to see an emergency room doctor at this time, reports state.

Later that day, a sergeant requested to make arrangements to have Donelson committed for three days to have her “stabilized medically and mentally” and secured a referral to Springwood Behavioral Health, according to reports. However, Springwood could not accept Donelson until she had a psychological evaluation, which was scheduled for the morning of Nov. 12.

Reports show Officers Andres Lemus and Beverly Taylor also checked on Donelson as they started passing out medication at about 9:30 p.m. Officer Taylor asked Donelson if she was OK. When she didn’t respond, the officer told her she would be back in a few minutes to give her some medication and food, according to reports. Taylor’s report states Donelson was in a fetal position on the ledge of the cell, but the officer saw her chest rise and fall, so she appeared to be all right.

An incident report from Detention Sgt. Orva Snow states she checked on Donelson at around 10:15 p.m. by saying her name. When Donelson didn’t move, she started knocking on the door and saying her name louder. Snow then entered the cell and said Donelson’s name several times with no movement from her, then she shook her with no response, according to the report. Snow called in two other officers. Each officer checked Donelson for a pulse and found none, the report states.

The officers called dispatch to send an ambulance and Taylor began performing CPR on Donelson, according to the report. While waiting for the ambulance, officers also used a defibrillator on Donelson, the report states. Snow also notified Hoos and Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek of the situation. The first ambulance arrived at the jail at 10:38 p.m. and EMT’s took over working on Donelson, according to the report. Minutes later, she was taken to the hospital, where she was later pronounced dead, the report states.

Donelson’s medical records show she had a history of hypertension, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, asthma and substance abuse that includes alcohol and methamphetamine. She also had a history of psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder with psychosis, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to medical records.

Donelson’s medical records show she was taking a list of prescribed medications prior to her death, which included klonopin (1 milligrams twice daily), lithium carbonate (300 mg three times daily), rispiradal (two mg twice daily), cogentin-benztropine (one mg twice daily), gabapentin (300 mg three times daily), ranitidine HCl (150 mg twice daily) and prazosin HCl (one mg once daily). According to records, Donelson took all or most of these medications, but there were times when she would refuse detention officers or the medication ran out. Records also indicate Donelson saw the nurse at the detention center on several occasions about the medications used to treat her mental illness, her complaints included hearing voices.

Donelson was arrested on May 15, 2013, at Mercy Hospital in Berryville after emergency room nurses said she had been medically discharged but was refusing to leave, according to a probable cause affidavit. Donelson became irate after she was told she would not be getting a prescription for Xanax, the affidavit states. When a Berryville officer tried to handcuff her, she attempted to hit him but was subdued with the help of another officer and escorted out of the emergency room, according to the affidavit. Donelson also spit her dentures at the officers and refused to get up after falling to the ground outside their patrol car, the affidavit states.

Donelson cursed and screamed on her way to the Carroll County Detention Center, according to the affidavit. Once there, jail staff members were unable to finish the booking process because Donelson resisted and kicked a corporal in the leg, the affidavit states.

Donelson was charged with second-degree battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct and was released on her own recognizance the next day, according to records from Carroll County Circuit Court.

On May 29, 2013, Donelson was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, communicating a false alarm and second-degree terroristic threatening, so two days later a judge ordered her release be revoked, records show.

Donelson was incarcerated on July 12, 2013, and her bond was set at $5,000 at her arraignment on July 8, 2013, according to court records. Donelson bonded out on Sept. 10, 2013, and was ordered to show up for a court-ordered mental evaluation on December 19, 2013, records show. The court issued an arrest warrant for Donelson and revoked her bond after she failed to show up for the evaluation, according to records.

Donelson turned herself in to the Carroll County Detention Center on July 31, 2014, and was incarcerated until she died in November, according to records.

Arkansas State Police conducted the investigation into Donelson’s death and turned their findings over to the Carrol County Prosecutor’s Office. The Carroll County prosecutor deemed there was no wrongdoing on part of the jail staff in the incident.

Click here to view Donelson’s In Memoriam page on the Smith Family Funeral Home website.

7 comments

  • Mark Smith

    This smacks of “spin.” Note the carefully crafted wording such as given “fluids and food,” which translates into someone concluding that they were in a lot of trouble and “packaged” the messaging of the report to paint normal meals and water as “was given fluids and food.” This is a prime example of society failing the mentally ill. We are all to blame although the truly guilty ones are the Judge, the jailors, the EMT’s and the nurse. Given the medical history, jail representes “Cruel and Unusual Punishment. The woman belonged in a Mental Hospital. Had she received proper care, she would not have committed the offenses for which she was jailed. Also, why was she in jail for 3.5 months without a hearing to check on her mental condition? Why isn’t the Judge held responsible for allowing such a delay without a hearing? What is truly criminal in all of this is that all parties responsible for her – failed her and are the authors of the report (e.g. Doctor, nurse, jailors, EMT’s, Springwood and most importantly – the Carrol County Prosecutor’s office). It is VERY clear that the report was generated by ALL parties that were responsible for her care. The Arkansas Supreme Court and the FBI should investigate all those responsible. The woman is NOT responsible for her Mental Illness.

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