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Investigation continues into latest inmate death at Santa Rita Jail

39-year-old woman found unresponsive in cell last month
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The inquiry is ongoing into the death of a 39-year-old woman who was found unresponsive in her cell at Santa Rita Jail on Feb. 13, marking the third death of an inmate at the Dublin facility in 2023, according to the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

Elizabeth Laurel was booked into the jail by the San Leandro Police Department two days before her death, on suspicion of possessing controlled substances and a felony warrant alleging drug sales, according to sheriff's Lt. Tya Modeste.

The lieutenant said that during the intake process that began around 3:30 p.m. Feb. 11, Laurel was screened and cleared for incarceration by jail medical and mental health staff.

Then at around 7 p.m. Feb. 13, custodial staff conducting a general observation check of the jail unit found Laurel unresponsive in her cell, of which she was the sole occupant, according to Modeste.

The deputy who found her called for an emergency medical response and started life-saving measures until medical staff and paramedics arrived, according to Modeste. Laurel was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene at 7:42 p.m.

"Our preliminary investigation revealed no obvious signs of trauma or foul play," Modeste said. "(Laurel) had an extensive history of addiction, and she was on withdrawal protocols for various substances, including opioids and alcohol."

The Alameda County Coroner's Bureau is continuing its investigation, Modeste told Livermore Vine this Tuesday.

The final report will be submitted to county and state prosecutors for review, per protocol and state law.

Laurel was the third inmate at Santa Rita Jail to die within a month's span -- some two weeks after new Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez took office.

Inmate health and safety was a key issue in the campaign leading up to when Sanchez defeated her boss and longtime sheriff Gregory Ahern in last year's primary election.

Stephen Lofton, 39, died in a suspected suicide in his cell on Jan. 17, and Charles Johnson, 45, succumbed at Stanford Health Care Tri-Valley Hospital in Pleasanton on Feb. 4, two days after being found unresponsive in his cell at the Dublin jail, according to the sheriff's office.


About the Author: Jeremy Walsh

Jeremy, a Benicia native and American University alum, joined Embarcadero Media in November 2013. After serving as associate editor for the Pleasanton Weekly and, he was promoted to editor of the East Bay Division in February 2017.
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