Utah governor, advocate call for investigation into inmate's death after missed dialysis

Associated Press

Utah's governor and a Latino community advocate called for answers Wednesday in a prison inmate's death that occurred after dialysis providers failed to show up for his treatment.

Gov. Gary Herbert told KSL Radio that the loss of 62-year-old inmate Ramon C. Estrada is a tragedy, and he wants to find out what happened and who is responsible.

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"It's just hard to comprehend," Herbert said. "I would expect even the inmate themself would say, 'I'm supposed to have a treatment. Where is the guy? Why is he not here?'"

Tony Yapias, who directs the advocacy group Proyecto Latino De Utah, said he has called the governor's office to ask for a full investigation. Yapias told The Associated Press it is an issue of concern to his group if a Latino dies as a result of inadequate medical attention or supervision.

A medical examiner will autopsy Estrada's body, but it appeared he died Sunday of an apparent heart attack related to kidney failure, the Utah Department of Corrections said.

Officials are still trying to figure out if anyone tried to contact the missing dialysis providers and when they might have done so, department spokeswoman Brooke Adams said Wednesday.

The University of Utah Hospital has provided dialysis services and other medical services to the prison for decades, Adams said. She had no details about the contract with the hospital.

Technicians with Sandy-based South Valley Dialysis, a University of Utah Hospital clinic, were scheduled to arrive at the prison Friday and Saturday did not show up.

The hospital also was still investigating why its technicians failed to arrive and if it was a scheduling error, Marissa Villasenor, a hospital spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

South Valley is one of 17 dialysis clinics the hospital system operates in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada.

A phone number for the clinic was disconnected Wednesday. A message left at a number listed for the director of the hospital's dialysis program was not returned Wednesday afternoon.

Technicians with the South Valley clinic have been traveling to the prison in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper to treat inmates for at least seven years.

Dr. Richard Garden, the prison's medical director, told the Deseret News in 2008 that the prison switched to the on-site hemodialysis because it saved money and was safer for the public than driving inmates to the clinic several times a week.

The prison made the switch after an inmate escaped and fatally shot a prison guard in 2007 while being escorted to a doctor's appointment.

Garden had been put on leave while the department investigates, Adams said. "Given the magnitude of this situation, that was appropriate to have him on leave while we try to get to the bottom of what happened here and where the communication failures were and what happened," she said.

Estrada had been in prison since August 2005 on a rape conviction, Adams said. He was scheduled to be paroled on April 21.

Estrada was from Mexico and believed to have been in the country illegally, Adams said. He would have been turned over to the U.S. Marshals Service when his sentence was complete, she said.

Randall W. Richards, a lawyer who represented Estrada in 2005, did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday and Wednesday. It was unclear if Estrada had an attorney at the time of his death.

Six other male inmates had been waiting for dialysis treatment and were taken to a hospital for evaluation. Four of them were treated and returned to their cells Tuesday, Adams said.

Adams did not have details about how long the four admitted to the hospital went without dialysis treatment.

She said the other inmates' identities were being withheld for privacy reasons.

The nonprofit Disability Law Center said in a statement Wednesday that the prison has a legal and moral duty to ensure inmates' health and safety, and it questioned how a "completely preventable incident like this could happen."

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Associated Press writer Kelly Catalfamo contributed to this report.