News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 9, 2013

Vigo jail death under investigation

Sheriff says man may have been involved in altercation prior to arrest early Monday morning

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Authorities hope an autopsy being conducted today will show what led to the  death early Tuesday of an inmate at the Vigo County Jail.

The Vigo County Sheriff’s Department is conducting a death investigation after inmate William Powell, 48, of Terre Haute was found unresponsive in his jail cell about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. According to Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing, Powell was arrested by Terre Haute City Police. He was booked into the jail at 12:06 a.m. Monday, the jail log shows.

Terre Haute Police officers responded to a call at about 10:55 p.m. Sunday, in the 1800 block of North Eighth Street, where an intoxicated male was said to be on someone’s front porch, Assistant City Police Chief Shawn Keen told the Tribune-Star on Tuesday afternoon.

City police discovered Powell drunk and with injuries to his head, Keen said. Powell was subsequently arrested on a city court warrant for bond revocation.

“Officers asked him how he got the injuries, and he couldn’t give an answer. He was pretty intoxicated,” Keen said. Terre Haute Police began their own investigation after learning of Powell’s death.

When Powell was first taken to the jail, Sheriff Ewing said, jail staff denied his admittance until he was cleared medically. Powell had contusions and abrasions on his head and he was intoxicated.

According to Ewing, city police took Powell to Terre Haute Regional Hospital, where he was medically cleared for confinement and brought back to the jail, then booked in. At the time of his book-in, Powell’s blood-alcohol content was 0.27. (By comparison, 0.08 percent is considered the legal limit for intoxication for drivers.)

Regional Hospital declined comment on Powell’s case Tuesday afternoon.

Jail medical staff saw Powell at 11 a.m. Monday and checked his vital signs, and “they were all within the normal limits,” Ewing said. Powell was placed on “sick call,” meaning medical staff would see him again Tuesday.

About 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, inmates alerted jail staff, who found Powell in his bunk, unresponsive, Ewing said.

Jail staff immediately began CPR and use of a defibrillator. When paramedics arrived, they determined Powell “was beyond resuscitation.” Ewing along with the jail commander, detectives and the coroner were then contacted.  

The sheriff’s department has reviewed video surveillance and determined “there was nothing that occurred here at the jail,” Ewing said. The death was not caused by another inmate or a fight inside the jail.

Jail staff also conduct walk-throughs of the jail on an hourly basis, Ewing said.

“At this point, the cause of death is unknown pending the autopsy,” he said.

Based on Powell’s book-in photo, and comments he made to other inmates, he may have been involved in some type of altercation prior to his arrest, Ewing said.

City police are looking into Powell’s activities Sunday. Powell “did have an acquaintance living on North Eighth Street, whose house we believe he was at prior to going to a neighbor’s,” Keen said.

Police are investigating all possibilities, Keen said, including if Powell was involved in an altercation with someone or if his injuries could have been sustained accidentally while he was intoxicated. “We just don’t know,” Keen said. “We’ve assigned it to the violent crimes unit” for further investigation.

Powell had past arrests, including operating a vehicle while intoxicated, bond revocation, public intoxication and failure to appear, Ewing said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or

The Vigo Sheriff’s Dept. says William Powell, 48, was found dead in his cell early Tuesday.