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Lawsuit claims negligence in death of inmate

Donald Wayne Cline, of Kearneysville, W.Va., was found unresponsive at Eastern Regional Jail on July 22, 2009

August 11, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The widow of a man who died at Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg two years ago claims in a lawsuit filed last month that authorities were negligent in his death.

Donald Wayne Cline, 47, of Kearneysville, W.Va., was found unresponsive at Eastern Regional Jail on July 22, 2009, within hours after he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of controlled substances or drugs, police have said.

The lawsuit filed on July 20 by Tina Cline names as defendants the Berkeley County Commission (now Berkeley County Council); Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Cochran; PrimeCare Medical of West Virginia Inc.; Sandra Parker, a licensed practical nurse employed by PrimeCare; and the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.  

Sandra Parker and her employer, PrimeCare Medical, which provides medical services to inmates under a contract with the jail, could not reached for comment.

Cochran also could not be reached for comment.

Joseph C. Thornton, cabinet secretary of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, which oversees the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, said Wednesday he couldn't comment on the lawsuit.

County government legal counsel Norwood Bentley III and Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster also declined to comment Wednesday.

"Obviously, it was sad the guy died," Bentley said.

Bentley said he expects the county council likely will ask the court to dismiss the budget-balancing arm of county government from the case because it did not have any involvement in the incident.

The state Supreme Court of Appeals several years ago generally recognized the council as a co-employer of all county employees, Bentley said.

Damages requested in the lawsuit include monetary relief for "sorrow, mental anguish and solace," loss of income of the deceased and funeral expenses, according to court documents. The lawsuit did not seek a specific amount of monetary relief.

The civil action has been assigned to 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III, according to court documents.

Cline's cause of death was the result of combined methadone, carisoprodol, diazepam and butalbital intoxication with over-ingestion of prescribed methadone, according to the lawsuit.

When tested after the accident, police said Cline had a blood-alcohol concentration of .05. But Cline nearly fell into the roadway during field-sobriety tests, and Cochran stopped the examination for Cline's safety and took him into custody, according to court documents. The state legal limit .08.

 Police have said that Cline was driving a white, 1988 Chevrolet S-10 pickup west on Charles Town Road when it rear-ended another vehicle, according to court documents.

Cline had slurred speech at the time and Cochran smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from the man, the court documents said.

But Cline told Cochran he had taken diazepam, also known as valium, and methadone before driving, the documents said.

The lawsuit alleges that Cline was cleared by Parker to be admitted to the jail without a medical clearance from a physician, and then the deceased was not placed under direct supervision by jail authorities.

Cochran is faulted in the lawsuit for failing to take Cline to City Hospital for medical evaluation after the vehicle crash, given his condition, the documents said.

The lawsuit also alleges the deputy failed to notify Parker of Cochran's condition, the documents said.

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