Ninilchik man found dead in Colorado prison

Posted: Friday, August 20, 2010

A Ninilchik man sentenced to 16 years in prison for the death of his fiance died early Monday morning at Hudson Correctional Facility, Hudson, Colo. Wesley Shandy, 44, had been at the prison since December 2009.

"The only thing we know is he was found unresponsive and died in the ambulance," said Richard Schmitz, a special assistant with the Alaska Department of Corrections.

Shandy had a cellmate at the time of his death about 1:30 a.m. An autopsy was done, and a determination of cause of death is awaiting toxicology reports.

Hudson is a private prison run by GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla., a company that purchased Cornell Companies. The Alaska Department of Corrections, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado Department of Corrections and GEO are conducting investigations into Shandy's death. Alaska Director of Institutions Garland Armstrong has gone to Colorado to investigate, Schmitz said. The Department of Corrections has contracts with GEO to incarcerate some Alaska convicts.

Shandy caused the death of Roxanne Herndon in November 2005 when he drove drunk on a four-wheeler with her. Herndon fell off the four-wheeler into the Ninilchik River as Shandy drove on a trail and over a breakwater. Shandy tried to search for Herndon without success. Rescuers eventually found her face down in the river, and she died two hours later.

A Homer jury in September 2008 found Shandy guilty of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and felony driving under the influence. Shandy had pleaded no contest before the trial to tampering with evidence for trying to get witnesses to say Herndon drove the four-wheeler.

In January 2009, Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood sentenced Shandy to 16 years for manslaughter and another three years for witness tampering, to be served consecutively. Shandy also got five years for felony DUI, with two years suspended, to be served at the same time as the other sentences.

Shandy was initially arrested after Herndon's death for violating probation, and had been in jail since November 2005. Shandy was at Wildwood Pretrial Facility before his sentencing and sent to Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward before being transferred to Hudson.

Herndon died on the day she and Shandy had announced their engagement. They had been celebrating before driving off that night for a four-wheeler ride. Shandy had a .11 blood-alcohol level within four hours of the accident, although his lawyer tried to argue in trial that when the incident happened his actual level of intoxication was .07.

Charlene Paight, Herndon's mother, pleaded for leniency at Shandy's sentencing.

"I believe with all my heart that what happened was an accident, and that you would not put Roxie in harm's way," Paight said at Shandy's sentencing.

"I will always think of you as my son and as a member of my family."

Herndon's death was the second killing he had been involved in. In 1989, Shandy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Charles Wood III in Redmond, Wash. Wood died of suffocation after he was beaten in the head with a wooden mallet and his mouth bound with duct tape.

After serving his murder sentence, Shandy came to Alaska. Kenai District Attorney Jean Seaton said Shandy had a further criminal history in Alaska, with convictions for domestic-violence assault, shoplifting and two DUIs. At the time of Herndon's death, Shandy was on parole for an Anchorage theft charge in which he defrauded unemployment for over $5,000.

At Shandy's sentencing in 2009, Judge Hopwood said Shandy showed a gross disregard for the safety of other people.

"You don't have to live a life in the criminal justice system," Hopwood told Shandy then. "This kind of a case is one where nobody wins. Now you have your own family, and Ms. Herndon's family, terribly affected by this. ... Their pleas to the court, while heard, didn't result in much to their satisfaction, and so they're left with nothing except you're in jail and Ms. Herndon is dead."

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