Jail inmate strangled after spilling hot chocolate

Posted: Tuesday, January 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An inmate of the city jail was strangled after a dispute arose over a pillow and he spilled some hot chocolate, Alaska State Troopers said Sunday.

Tom Elijah Sage, 49, was strangled at about 10:15 p.m. Saturday, approximately two hours after being brought to the 6th Avenue Jail on an assault charge. Staff at the jail, doing routine 45-minute checks, found Sage's body on the floor in a dormitory where several inmates were watching television.

Terry Stromme, 22, who had been held since Friday in the jail on assault and resisting arrest charges, was charged Sunday with first-degree murder. He was taken to the Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility and was expected to be arraigned Monday in District Court.

Bruce Richards, special assistant to the commissioner for the Department of Corrections, said he believes the death is the first homicide to occur in an Alaska jail.

''To my knowledge this is the first time this has happened,'' Richards said.

Several inmates were watching television when Sage picked up a pillow. Stromme challenged him, saying the pillow was his, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

A short time later Sage, who was sitting on the edge of a table, dozed off and spilled hot chocolate.

''At that point Stromme gets up and strangles him,'' Wilkinson said.

The other inmates in the dormitory did not alert jail staff.

Wilkinson said there is no indication the two men knew each other before they met in the jail.

Roughly 93 inmates were in the 108-bed jail when the homicide occurred, Richards said. The jail was fully staffed with seven guards on duty.

State trooper are investigating. The Department of Corrections also is conducting its own internal investigation.

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