Coroner: Heart attack killed woman in jail

Coroner: Heart attack killed woman in jail

URBANA — Further tests done on a woman who died after collapsing while in custody at the Champaign County Jail in January show she suffered a heart attack.

Melissa Mullins Lackey, 36, died on Monday, Jan. 30, at Carle Foundation Hospital. Several hours earlier, she suffered what jail employees thought was a seizure.

"She actually had a heart attack. The immediate cause of her death is that she had swelling on the brain from a lack of oxygen and blood flow due to the heart attack," Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Wednesday.

"What was reported as her having a seizure was the effect of her experiencing a heart attack at that time," he said. "She had significant coronary artery disease for being only 36 years old."

Mrs. Lackey had been in the jail only a couple of days, having been sentenced to five years in prison on the Friday before her death for retail theft. She was to have been transferred to a state prison later in the week.

Northrup said he still hasn't decided if he will hold an inquest and let jurors determine the manner of her death or merely make a declaration himself, as he is allowed to do under the law.

He said he's waiting for reports from the sheriff's office about Mrs. Lackey's stay there and any medical records they generated while she was there before closing his investigation.

Mrs. Lackey's mother, Leslie Mullins of Urbana, told The News-Gazette that on Friday night, Mrs. Lackey spoke with her children from the jail but cut short the conversation, saying she didn't feel well.

Northrup said he wants to know if she sought medical treatment while there.

Capt. Allen Jones, who oversees the jail, said Mrs. Lackey had and that his office has those reports ready and is willing to cooperate with anything Northrup wants.

"She was receiving care according to the protocol our medical vendor uses here at the jail throughout the weekend. This was an unexpected situation," said Jones, adding he was proud of the quick response of his correctional officers to Mrs. Lackey.

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