By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
EVERETT — Lyndsey Elizabeth Lason was just 27 years old when she died in cell 13 at the Snohomish County Jail.
For more than a week in November 2011, her labored breathing troubled her fellow inmates.
Some poked fun at the “eke, eke, eke” sounds she made when she inhaled.
Lason often complained to staff and fellow inmates that she was in pain.
Her chest cavities were infected, and filling with fluid that eventually collapsed her lungs.
In other words, she slowly was suffocating.
The Everett woman died from a pulmonary infection, according to her death certificate.
Now, a medical professional is saying her death while in county custody could have been prevented.
“The complacency of the medical staff and the corrections officers resulted in Lason’s death,” forensic pathologist Carl Wigren wrote in a 28-page report.
Wigren’s conclusion is part of a $10 million wrongful death claim filed against Snohomish County and the cities of Everett and Des Moines. The former county forensic pathologist was hired by Lason’s estate to review medical and jail records as well as a death investigation done by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
“Despite her repeated requests, sometimes specifically for an X-Ray of her chest, the medical staff did not adequately assess her medical condition,” Wigren wrote.
Lason was arrested Oct. 29, 2011, on misdemeanor warrants alleging theft and prostitution in Everett and Des Moines.
During a medical assessment five days before she died, she had a high temperature, rapid breathing, an elevated heart rate and “abnormally low oxygen saturation,” according to the claim. The nurse took note that Lason was hyperventilating during the interview.
Instead of getting a diagnostic exam, she was given stool softeners and muscle relaxants, according to jail records.
“Simple diagnostic tests could have saved her life,” Wigren wrote.
City and county officials are reviewing the wrongful death claims.
“The sheriff’s office cannot comment on the case since it is an active claim against the county,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Shari Irteon said.
Jennifer Taylor of Snohomish is Lason’s cousin. She said she considered Lason the closest thing she had to a sister when they were growing up.
It baffles her to think about how her cousin died.
“She had 10 days of suffering,” Taylor said. “What she went through could have been prevented.”
Lason had a difficult childhood and ran legal trouble as an adult, Taylor said.
“She was very compassionate,” she said. “She forgave more than she should and she loved more than she was ever loved.”
Everett attorney Royce Ferguson is representing Lason’s estate in the claim for damages that could lead to a lawsuit.
“You can always say this is all about money,” Ferguson said. “It isn’t what is motivating Jen. Jen felt this wasn’t right and it could happen to anybody.”
Shortly after she was booked into jail, Lason fell out of her bunk and began complaining about back pain.
Jail records indicate she had asked to go to the medical clinic Nov. 2, but then changed her mind after staying up late the night before. She then told a corrections officer she had been tired and didn’t get to sleep until late. She renewed her request to go to the clinic that morning, saying she was in pain. She was told it was too late.
“She said she was hurting so much she could not breathe,” a corrections officer wrote in a disciplinary report. “She demanded that I call a medical emergency and transport her to the hospital.”
The corrections officer called a nurse who directed Lason to get some rest.
Lason “kept knocking on her cell door” and asked to be moved to a medical health unit, according to the corrections officer’s report.
Her request was denied.
“I kept having to tell her to lie down since she was on bed rest, but she kept ignoring my order,” the corrections officer wrote. “She said she could not lie down due to the pain.”
Eventually, Lason reportedly told the officer she needed medical housing because she was “dope sick.”
A nurse was sent to see her. Lason talked to her about the pain she was in, but didn’t say anything about going through drug withdrawals.
Lason later told the corrections officer she had lied to him about being drug sick, and did so to get medical attention for the problem she was actually experiencing.
“She said she had to do something,” he wrote.
At that point, Lason was written up for lying, manipulation and abuse of services under the jail’s disciplinary rules.
The death investigation also included an interview with a retired Des Moines police officer who works transporting prisoners to court appearances. The officer picked up Lason at the Snohomish County Jail the day before she died. The officer told investigators that he originally was reluctant to transport her because of her obvious problems breathing.
He said “he had some conversation with jail deputies about her condition but no one seemed overly concerned,” according to the sheriff’s office reports.
That same afternoon, a jail counselor reportedly visited Lason in her cell, according to the investigation report. The counselor noted her breathing difficulties.
Several inmates told sheriff’s detectives that Lason had repeatedly complained about her worsening medical condition.
One inmate claimed Lason “was constantly banging on her cell door screaming for help and keeping everybody up.”
Another said: “Inmates were upset with her because she was being so disruptive at night and keeping them up asking for help.”
Her cellmate told investigators: “Everybody was really annoyed. Everybody was just like, ‘Dude, you know, like your breathing is either fake or you need to get some serious help.’”
At autopsy, her chest was found to contain more than three liters of pus that had partially collapsed her lungs, according to documents Ferguson filed along with the damage claim.
Lason’s death at the jail is not the only case facing scrutiny. There have been seven deaths there since 2010.
In July, Michael Saffioti, of Mukilteo, died from bronchial asthma triggered by severe allergies, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Saffioti, 22, had turned himself in on a misdemeanor marijuana warrant. He brought along a bag of medications he needed to control life-threatening food allergies and respiratory problems he had lived with since his early childhood.
Arrangements had been made beforehand with Lynnwood police to transfer him to the Snohomish County Jail, which has a medical unit.
No claim has been filed, but his family is convinced his death could have been prevented and has hired a Seattle attorney to press for answers.
There is evidence that at least some were aware of Michael Saffioti’s medical problems from previous jail stays, where accommodations were made for his health problems. Among inmates, he even had a nickname: “Bubble Boy.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.