By JIM HALEY
Charles Ben Finch paced back and forth on the second floor of a Snohomish County Jail unit just after 8 o’clock Wednesday night, muttering something to himself.
Then he climbed a chest-high metal railing, balanced on top and probably braced against the ceiling to keep from falling.
The jailer assigned to the glassed-in booth in the module called for help from other custodial officers, who hurried into the maximum-security unit. They saw Finch on the railing and told him to stay still.
Some of the officers started up the stairs to the second level, but before they could get very far Finch launched himself from his precarious perch. His head struck a concrete masonry wall some 10 feet away before he fell to the hard tile floor.
That’s the account jail administrators gave Thursday of what happened to Finch, who has been on trial for his life in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Everett police are investigating the incident, but have not labeled it a suicide attempt.
"There’s no reason to believe at this point that foul play was involved," police spokesman Sgt. Boyd Bryant said.
Finch underwent surgery Thursday, and remains in Providence Everett Hospital’s critical care unit, Bryant added.
Finch was returned to Snohomish County from the state penitentiary at Walla Walla in March, and a jury was nearing the end of a trial to decide whether he should be executed for the 1994 shooting deaths of a blind man and a sheriff’s deputy.
Finch was the only prisoner from the jail module out of his cell at the time he jumped. He was in a unit reserved for maximum-security inmates, who get only two half-hour periods out of their cells each day, jail officials said.
The half-hour periods are reserved for such things as recreation, visitors or showers.
Finch had just been let out of his cell to take a shower, said Capt. Christopher Bly, who was the duty officer on call Wednesday night.
Finch took a towel and toiletries en route to the shower on the second floor of the module. He dropped those items and removed his jail sandals before climbing the railing. The distance from the top of the railing to the floor below was measured at 14 feet 8 inches. He was still dressed in the jail’s blue overalls when he fell, Bly said.
Andrea Bynum, Snohomish County Corrections director, said jail nurses were summoned immediately, and the Everett Fire Department was called to give Finch aid and take him to the hospital.
Finch was conscious, and staff members had to tell him not to move. He mumbled but didn’t say anything, Bly said.
Police searched Finch’s cell and found a datebook with Wednesday’s date circled and the word "dead" written on it. They also found a sealed letter addressed to Finch’s attorney. The letter was given to the attorney unopened, Bly said.
Jail administrative officer George Hughes said his staff is trained to watch for signs of suicide. Finch gave no such signals, Bly added.
A Snohomish County sheriff’s crisis intervention team yesterday assisted officers who had witnessed the incident, said Richard Steele, jail operations chief.
"The officers that responded are trained, but obviously this was a very traumatic event," Steele said. "We look for certain behavior, and none of that behavior indicated this was on his mind. I think it surprised everyone."
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