Death and Laxness

If the jailers had paid attention, they might have noticed that Jose Rodriquez was dying

Jacobson would later write in his account that it was Rodriquez's fellow inmates, not Jacobson, who believed Rodriquez was faking.

Rodriquez wasn't faking, as Jacobson would soon learn.
Jacobson wrote, "I took a cup of juice and a sack lunch to his cell to feed him and account for him. When I walked into his cell he was in the same spot as he was when I saw him at the 1100 hours security walk. I said 'Rodriquez here is your lunch. Make sure you eat it.' I put the lunch on the table. Rodriquez didn't move nor did he speak. I bent over and touched his left shoulder and said 'Rodriquez are you O.K.?' I rolled him over and his eyes were open but I could tell something was wrong."

Jacobson tried to revive Rodriquez, but it was too late.
Vela recalls, "I went in there when [Jacobson] was turning him over, and he was pretty stiff already. It happened pretty quick."

The pod was locked down and the body was bagged. Vela says the officers and nurses chatted and laughed as they removed the body and examined the scene.

Laila Coe, a detoxification nurse for six years at Terros, a local drug-treatment facility, says, "Heroin withdrawal can be really, really intense. I mean, these people actually feel like they're dying, and they look like they've been rolled over by a Mack truck."

But heroin withdrawal doesn't typically kill, if the patient receives proper attention, Coe says.

Coe says she can only guess what killed Rodriquez. Perhaps, she says, he choked on his vomit. If he couldn't keep down water, and was dehydrated, he should have been receiving fluids intravenously, she adds; if he had a fever, he should have been monitored.

"That's kind of standard operating procedure," Coe says.
Vela sees a different standard operating procedure in jail.
He says, "You see it all the time. People are hurting, people need medical attention in here. They just--they treat 'em like, 'We'll get to you when we get to you. If you die between now and the time we get to you, it's not our fault.'"

An autopsy was performed on Rodriquez. Official cause of death: acute and chronic bronchitis. Vela thinks that's bull. He never heard Rodriquez cough, not once.

He says, "I was right there, and I ain't afraid to tell 'em. That guy has family out there somewheres that want to know what happened, why, and they don't know."

Detective Ondrejech called Rodriquez's sister, Lala, to tell her of Jose's demise. Lala, who lives in Idaho and does not speak English, had difficulty understanding, so he spoke to Lala's daughter, Erika.

Through an interpreter, Lala tells New Times that she hadn't seen her brother in 20 years. She spoke to him on the phone occasionally, and knew he had a drug problem. She never knew him to have any breathing difficulties, which is why she was perplexed to hear that he died of chronic bronchitis.

Lala passes on the name and phone number of Jose Rodriquez's daughter, Maryanne, 17, who lives with her mother, Liz Avalos, near El Paso, Texas.

Maryanne is not home, but Avalos is. She, too, had not seen Rodriquez--whom she calls Little Joe--in many years, until he showed up at her parents' house in El Paso last fall.

Avalos and Rodriquez met 18 years ago in California; both worked at a Foster Farms plant, cutting chicken parts. They were happy together. Rodriquez loved antique cars--he had an old Chevy truck, completely restored--and he played the organ.

The relationship soured when Avalos got pregnant.
She says, "I had the impression he felt like he was pressured. Things didn't work out after that. During the pregnancy, he started drinking heavily and we would fight a lot, argue a lot."

When Maryanne was 3 days old, Avalos moved to Texas to be with her parents. Before she left, she says, Rodriquez held the baby and cried. Later, he came to Texas and lived with her for a few months. Again, he began drinking.

"He would come home with hickies and pictures of other girls. . . . Stuff like that. I wasn't gonna put up with that."

So Rodriquez moved to Arizona. He called a few times--always on Maryanne's birthday--and then fell out of touch until last October, when he showed up at Avalos' childhood home in Texas.

"My father opens the door and says, 'Joe? Is that you?'" she says. Rodriquez explained that he had been in prison. He had ridden around the neighborhood in a taxi for 45 minutes, trying to locate Avalos' home--a two-story house, on a corner.

Rodriquez spent the weekend with Avalos, her husband and Maryanne. Father and daughter "bonded like they knew each other for many years."

Avalos says, "It was wonderful. I loved seeing him again." But she recalls that Rodriquez looked terrible.

"I even told him, 'Are you on drugs?' He bowed down his head, he said yes, but he wanted to seek help for it, that he had met his daughter, that he wanted to improve, he wanted a change."

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