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None of the inmates in Florida’s now notorious Escambia County Jail were sentenced to death by explosion, but that was the ultimate fate of at least two inmates who lost their lives in a fatal blast that rapidly spread through the booking and detention center. The jail housed approximately 600 inmates hailing from Western Florida, Broward County, Fort Lauderdale and beyond. Approximately 155 of these inmates were injured in the blast and the state attorney is now seeking out parties who might be responsible for the explosion, stating that criminal charges could be pressed against officials who might have smelled the gas leak.
The Incident Currently Under Investigation
According to eyewitness reports, several inmates complained of smelling gas prior to the eruption which took place near the bookings office and rapidly caved in the walls and ceiling. Investigators are now sifting through the remains of a jail that likely won’t reopen, searching for clues and seeking out evidence of possible negligence. In the meantime, families of inmates and guards alike are outraged by the fact that they have been unable to contact their loved ones or to be informed of their whereabouts. Uninjured Escambia County inmates were ushered onto buses and relocated to more stable facilities while the injured were allegedly hospitalized. Worried loved ones claim they have not been made aware of which bus their family members and friends boarded—the one headed for a new jail or the one headed for a hospital bed. The names of the two deceased have yet to be released to the public. For many, the agony of not knowing is only making matters worse.
Possible Criminal Charges
Escambia County was allegedly under investigation prior to the fatal explosion for other acts of negligence. These acts included but were not limited to understaffing, segregation, violent outbreaks that often went unchecked and inadequate healthcare provisions just to name a few. There is no word yet as to who would officially be charged with negligence if the incident becomes the focus of a future trial. As it stands, civil suits from injured inmates certainly appear to be on the horizon and one attorney has taken to investigating local churches in order to uncover the names and locations of inmates who might wish to take part in a class action lawsuit.
In the most recent event, two known fatalities have already been uncovered and hundreds more injuries have been reported. Among the injured is one paralyzed prison guard. Several other guards suffered injuries as a result of the explosion. The severity of those injuries is yet to be revealed. More importantly, responsibility for those injuries has yet to be delegated.
Ownership and Responsibility of Escambia County Jail Changed Hands
Over the course of a five year investigation, ownership of the Escambia Jail changed hands. While it was previously property of the sheriff, the county took over ownership in October but reportedly never made any changes to the “defunct system”. Evidence of negligence is currently being compiled but one possible criminal defense is to place the blame on the sheriff, the previous owner. With many witnesses stating blatantly that they complained of something that smelled like a gas leak prior to the horrific event, it is also possible that charges will be pressed against some of the guards on duty, many of whom are still in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained and others, like the paralyzed prison guard, who might never recover at all.
About the Author:
Michael D. Leader is a criminal lawyer with Fort Lauderdale law firm Leader & Leader P.A. specializing in all forms of criminal law, Leader and partner George Leader offer years of legal experience and commitment to ethics.