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Maryland Prisoner’s Death Occurs Under Unusual Circumstances

The death of prisoner Louis S. Leysath III, 35, at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Institution was the subject of an investigation after he was found dead in a steam-filled cell on February 20, 2015. Leysath, serving a 30-year sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder for killing his girlfriend, was housed alone in the cell when he died.

Investigators determined that Leysath had damaged the heating unit in his cell, fell unconscious due to inhalation of released steam and, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, died as a result of “thermal injuries.” In other words he was scalded to death. Prison officials said Leysath had been placed in a single cell due to his erratic behavior; he was reportedly under “close observation,” though not on suicide watch.

No further details were offered by prison officials. However, as reported by the Baltimore Sun, three prison guards were placed on administrative leave, with pay, pending the outcome of the review. Following the conclusion of the investigation, prison officials declined to comment on whether any disciplinary action had been taken against the guards.

In October 2015, the Baltimore Sun obtained a copy of the investigative report. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) essentially found that Leysath’s death had been accidental. He was placed in the observation cell after prison guards noticed him talking to himself and smiling oddly. An autopsy revealed the presence of diphenhydramine, an over-the-counter antihistamine which may cause hallucinations and confusion in large doses.

According to the DPSCS report, on the evening of February 19, 2015, Leysath began talking to himself, yelling and kicking the walls of the observation cell. By 3 a.m. the next day, guards noticed water seeping out from under the cell door, flooding the other cells on the tier. Guards reportedly tried to remove Leysath from his cell but he refused.

Around 4 a.m., prisoners and guards reportedly heard a loud sound in Leysath’s cell, followed by an expletive and then silence. Shortly afterward Leysath was found unresponsive in a pool of hot water; he was pronounced dead a short time later.

An attorney representing Leysath’s family, William Renahan, has filed a wrongful death claim against the state. As Renahan told the Baltimore Sun in October 2015, he believes DPSCS should have removed Leysath from the cell by force, if necessary.

“How does a cell get filled with steam, to the point that you get steamed to death, if somebody’s watching you?” he asked.

While that is a good question, state officials apparently do not have a good answer.


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