Suicide suspected in South Lake inmate's death

A 55-year-old man who was being booked on drunken-driving charges apparently hanged himself with a telephone cord Saturday at the South Lake Tahoe jail.

El Dorado County officials hope to release the name today, pending notification of next of kin.

Saturday's alleged suicide is under investigation, and a report will be submitted to the California Department of Corrections. The man used a local address when he was taken into custody, but he may have been a transient, the county sheriff's department reported Sunday.

The man, who was booked on suspicion of drunken driving, was pronounced dead at the scene. He had been placed in a prebooking cell with access to a phone attached to an 8- to 12-inch long cord that he reportedly placed around his neck. The phone allows an inmate to call an attorney or bail bonds issuer.

When the man's body was found at 5:14 a.m., the jail staff immediately implemented emergency procedures such as CPR, Sgt. Bruce Rosa reported.

Rosa said jail staff surmised the suicide occurred within an hour of discovery of the body. Staff is required to check on inmates every hour.

As per jail procedures, a nurse is on duty at all times, Lt. Les Lovell said Sunday.

Lovell ran the jail for three years before handing off the duty to Sgt. Randy Peshon. In that time, Lovell has known of one suicide, that of James Csuscai, a man accused of murdering a young girl at a campground in South Lake Tahoe on Sept. 21, 2001. The girl's mother, Lisa Platz, was sentenced to life in prison in June 2003 for the murder. At the time of his death, Csuscai was being held in a regular cell.

Lovell said the jail staff has been forced to intervene in an average of six suicide attempts per year. The jail off Al Tahoe Boulevard had just passed the state inspection.

"No matter if the incident is training or a real event, we always re-evaluate our procedures," Lovell said of the dead inmate's access to a phone cord.

Prisoners are not allowed to have shoelaces or belts. It takes only two to four minutes for hangings to result in a loss of consciousness or death.

"If someone really wants to harm themselves, there's no way of getting around that," Lovell said. "You never know what goes through someone's head."


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