UPDATED: Coroner says inmate died of natural causes

UPDATED: Coroner says inmate died of natural causes

Updated 7:14 p.m. Friday

URBANA — Preliminary autopsy results show that the death of a female Champaign County jail inmate was due to natural causes related to underlying cardiac disease.

Champaign County sheriff’s officials are looking into the death of Veronica Horstead, 48, who had a years-long struggle with heroin addiction.

Miss Horstead, 48, was found unresponsive in her cell at 6:43 a.m. Friday at the Champaign County satellite jail, where she had been since early Tuesday. A nurse who was about to give her medication found her. Jail employees did CPR and she was taken to Carle, where she was pronounced dead at 7:12 a.m.

Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Friday evening that the death appeared to be from natural causess, pending toxicology results that are not yet available.

Miss Horstead had been arrested Monday for unlawful use of a weapon by a felon for allegedly having a bullet in a car on Louisiana Avenue in which police also found a gun that turned out to be a starter pistol.

Sheriff Dan Walsh said after her arrest Monday, Miss Horstead was taken to Carle Hospital for treatment, examined and cleared to go to the jail, where she was booked in about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Miss Horstead, who listed an address in the 300 block of East Hill Street, Champaign, also had three other pending criminal cases for burglary, theft, and possession of controlled substance and retail theft. She was supposed to go to court on Monday to plead guilty, resolving at least two of those cases.

Court records indicate that she had been found ineligible for the county's drug court program — a program from which she had successfully graduated in 2009.

Miss Horstead first shared her story of addiction to pain medication with The News-Gazette in July 2008.

A year before that, she had slipped into a coma for almost two months after the heroin she was using aggravated her pre-existing congestive heart failure.

Then 41 years old, she described a lifetime of drug abuse that started with marijuana at age 9 while she lived in public housing in north Champaign and progressed to cocaine and later heroin.

She has at least nine prior criminal convictions for theft, burglary and drug possession for which she had been to the pentieniary five times.

In the more recent past, Miss Horstead had been arrested in December in north Champaign and charged with burglary for allegedly stealing appliances from an apartment complex under construction. When she was stopped in a car seen leaving the Providence at Sycamore construction site about 2 a.m. on Dec. 18, police believed she was under the influence of some intoxicating substance.

In the back seat of the car with her was a 6-year-old child who was not restrained.

Her other cases alleged shoplifting from Meijer in Champaign in July 2015 and theft of merchandise from the Dollar General, 3001 W. Bradley Ave., C, on May 26.

When Champaign police interacted with her on May 26, they described her as erratic and emotional. On that day, she complained of pain and trouble breathing and was taken to Carle for treatment, then released several hours later.

Assistant State's Attorney Sarah Carlson, who has been her office's representative in the drug court program for 16 years, said she didn't know anything about Miss Horstead's death but recalled that it took her longer than many to graduate from the drug court program because her health problems lingered.

"When she was sober, she was a very kind woman whom everyone regarded well. She had a bubbly personality, a smile for everyone, never met an enemy. I'm sorry because in her heart, she was a nice woman," said the prosecutor.

Her most recent court-appointed attorney, Assistant Public Defender George Vargas, agreed.

“My impression of her from dealing with her as a client was that she was a very sweet lady, always very respectful and very pleasant,” he said.

Walsh said although he had no reason to suspect foul play, he asked the Illinois State Police to investigate. An autopsy was scheduled.

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kowalski_michele wrote on June 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm
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Drug addiction is real.  If your family has ever been affected by it, you will agree.  I am sad for this womans life to end the way it did.  If you replace "drugs or drug addiction" with cancer, her pain is the same and for her family too.  Drugs are killing our loved ones every single day.  God Speed Veronica and rest easy.  Your struggle is over.


townsend1306 wrote on June 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

It just amazing how many black people die when police and jail are envoled ? This tell me at night your going to get pulled over. I know this for a fact, I got stories of the things that happen to me and I was riding a bicycle, if you ask for Meds they are slow and you might not get them at all my friend Paul Cilfton died in the county jail a few months ago I see a pattern maybe I am wrong but I see a pattern ! how  many have died this year ?

packwack wrote on June 10, 2016 at 6:06 pm

I don't know what getting arrested for drugs or j-walking for that matter has to do with dying in the care of the law enforcement apparatus of your community. Protect and serve has just went out the window or is that just for the privileged? Anyway, when will the News Gazette start questioning why people are dying at the hands of our county government? Does it have the be a privileged child suffering from affluenza and playing on your local hocky team before they feel something ain't right? 

rsp wrote on June 10, 2016 at 8:06 pm

Try people in poor health from years of drug use. Drug use can damage your heart, lungs, liver, etc. She was in heart failure before she was arrested. That means she was dying. She knew that and still used drugs. Add in the stress of being in jail. Being in jail is stressful. She knew that and yet she had a gun. Don't blame the county or the police.

rsp wrote on June 10, 2016 at 8:06 pm

It's not just black people, it's white people too. It's people who are sick.

BruckJr wrote on June 10, 2016 at 9:06 pm

All this and she has a 6 year old child?  What chance does that child have for a normal life?

rsp wrote on June 11, 2016 at 12:06 am

It doesn't say it was her child. It just says there was a child with her that day. Don't talk about the child.

Whoa_7 wrote on June 11, 2016 at 10:06 am

Speculation and opinion is just that. The facts are: 1. The heart failure was an ongoing health issue and she somehow remained alive all these years in spite of the drug use, 2. She was in drug withdrawl [which probably put strain on her heart] 3. Another female inmate died in the same jail recently (and I believe she also had a history of drug use). It seems obvious that either there is no proper protocol for handling inmates with substance dependency issues or it certainly isn't being followed accordingly. While including every available detail in an effort to ease the attention onto her checkered past and take it off of the real story here (the fact that she died suddenly while in custody) there is no mention of how long it had been since the last time the nurse checked on her or gave her medication or what measures were being taken to ensure her well being and monitor her detox. People are commenting as though this death SHOULD have happened when the truth of the matter is, once taken into custody inmates become the responsibility of the staff so there should be an investigation and some training so that this does not happen again. And since there are so many opinions, I'll add my own; had she not been incarcerated I dont think she would be dead right now.