A heroin overdose was one of the reasons a Patchogue man died last month in the Suffolk County jail before he could be sentenced for killing another motorist while high on drugs, a Suffolk prosecutor told a judge Friday.
Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti revealed Thomas Herman's cause of death during a brief court appearance to dismiss the case.
Herman, 48, pleaded guilty in February to first-degree manslaughter. He admitted that he was high on oxycodone, Xanax and PCP when he hit five cars on Montauk Highway in Sayville at almost 90 mph before crashing his Chevrolet TrailBlazer head-on into a vehicle. That driver, Sam Longo, 82, of West Islip, was killed.
When Herman died in the Riverhead jail on April 12, the sheriff's office said it was the result of natural causes, but Prudenti told state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen there was more to it than that. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was an enlarged heart, with heroin use and obesity playing a role, Prudenti said. "This is a person incarcerated by the Suffolk County sheriff's office, correct?" Cohen asked Prudenti. "Will you be reporting this to the sheriff?"
"We will be," the prosecutor said. He declined to comment further, other than to say his office wanted to discuss with jail officials how Herman could overdose in their care.
Herman's attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge, lashed out at the sheriff's office.
"How can the sheriff, Vincent DeMarco, permit an inmate to die from a heroin overdose when the inmate is caged and is totally under the control and supervision of Sheriff DeMarco?" Keahon said. "Obviously, he's not doing his job -- protecting the people in the facility. I hold him personally responsible. I look forward to hearing his explanation for his dereliction of duty."
Michael Sharkey, chief of staff for the sheriff's office, said he had no information on the cause of Herman's death, but said it is impossible to keep contraband out of this or any jail.
Courts have limited jails' ability to strip-search inmates and look in body cavities without cause, Sharkey said. New inmates can bring in drugs and pass them to other inmates, and visitors sometimes bring in contraband while visiting.
"It wouldn't be shocking to me to find illicit drugs in the facility. It happens," Sharkey said. "I think we do a great job in interdicting our contraband. No facility is free of it."
He declined to comment on Keahon's accusations and Prudenti's concerns.