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The Journal Gazette

  • Emergency responders load an unidentified person into the back of an ambulance Tuesday after a possible exposure to drug fumes inside a cell at the Allen County Jail. (Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette)

Wednesday, June 06, 2018 1:00 am

Drug fumes at jail put 5 in hospital

4 officers, inmate exposed in cell in stable condition

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Four confinement officers and one inmate were taken to a hospital after they were apparently exposed to noxious drug fumes Tuesday at the Allen County Jail, officials said.

The officers and inmate, all women, were reported in stable condition, according to Steve Stone, Allen County Sheriff's Department public information officer.

Officials were not sure what drug caused the problem, Stone said, or how it entered the jail.

About 5 p.m., two of the officers entered the women's section of the jail to search a cell. Inside, they found a towel draped over the toilet, Stone said.

When the towel was removed, a plume of smoke immediately emerged and sickened the officers, Stone said.

“It hit them in the face,” Stone said. “They immediately started to feel dizzy, lightheaded, sick to their stomach.”

Two more officers went inside the cell and were also sickened. The inmate was also taken to the hospital but didn't show any signs of exposure or contamination, Stone said.

Shortly after 5 p.m., ambulances were lined outside the Clinton Street side door as one officer after another was transported by gurney or wheelchair into a waiting emergency vehicle.

Firefighters from the Fort Wayne Fire Department Hazardous Materials Response Team entered the jail's back door wearing masks. The Fort Wayne Police Department and Three Rivers Ambulance Authority were also on scene along with sheriff's department, which oversees the jail.

The incident was similar to one that occurred at the jail in November when 34 employees were treated for symptoms after an inmate tried to use a substance believed to be fentanyl, using an electrical outlet near a cell to light the paper.

Eleven jail employees were administered Narcan, the drug used to reverse drug overdoses.

At that time, jail officials believed the drug came through the mail. Mail can be searched if it is from friends or relatives, authorities said in November, but letters from attorneys cannot be opened. Drug-sniffing dogs can be used, but the jail, which houses more than 800 inmates, is too large to check every cell every day, Stone said.

In February, employees at the Whitley County Jail were sent home after they were exposed to heroin cut with a sleep aid. The drug was found on a woman being booked into the jail. 

On Tuesday, Jacob Shrock and Kenneth Sherry, who said his girlfriend was a trusty on the Z block, waited outside to see if their loved ones in the jail were all right.

Stone said the Z block was not the affected block.

“They can't call out, and they shut the tablets down and everything,” Sherry said, referring to computerized tablets inmates are allowed access to.