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Inmate dies at Whatcom County Jail

A deputy speaks to an inmate in a first-floor holding cell at Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham in this June 28, 2015 file photo.
A deputy speaks to an inmate in a first-floor holding cell at Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham in this June 28, 2015 file photo. eabell@bellinghamherald.com

An inmate died Thursday afternoon in a holding cell on the first floor of the Whatcom County Jail, according to the sheriff’s office.

Police had booked the woman in her 40s into jail shortly before her death. Her blood-alcohol tested very high around the time of her arrest, but staff at St. Joseph hospital found her medically fit to be transferred to jail, said Sheriff Bill Elfo.

Guards checked on her in a holding cell for inmates who are sobering up – often referred to as a “drunk tank” – around noon Thursday. She was responsive at the time, the sheriff said. Staff brought her lunch 10 minutes later and found her medical condition had rapidly deteriorated, Elfo said.

Jail staff performed CPR, used a defibrillator, and called for paramedics. The woman was pronounced dead at the jail. She had been alone in the cell.

Initial evidence suggests the death was caused by a medical problem, not suicide, Elfo said. The sheriff cautioned, however, that the cause won’t be confirmed until the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office performs an autopsy.

Some of the woman’s family members had been notified of the death on Thursday afternoon, but Elfo declined to confirm her name until children in the family could be told.

Those first-floor holding cells are a few feet from where jail guards process new bookings.

The Bellingham Police Department was called in to investigate what happened.

This is the first death in the jail since May 2015, when an inmate killed himself with a razor in a cell on the second floor.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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