Troopers investigate death after fight at Palmer jail

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An inmate punched at a Palmer state jail Saturday died about seven hours later but preliminary autopsy reports do not indicate the altercation was the cause of death.

John France, 47, Palmer, stopped breathing and died at 12:10 a.m. Sunday at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility. France was in custody after being arrested Friday on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

France's body was sent to the state medical examiner's office and an autopsy Monday indicated he died of natural causes.

However, a subsequent Department of Corrections investigation revealed that France had been hit in the face at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Corrections spokesman Bruce Richards said France was assigned to cellblock consisting of a dormitory, with sleeping quarters for 16, and a day room, which contains tables, chairs and televisions. Four other prisoners had been assigned temporary beds in the day room, where France was punched.

The investigation revealed that France was hit once in the face and knocked to the floor.

According to the department, France did not lose consciousness and appeared uninjured. He did not seek medical attention and did not report the incident to corrections officers.

The medical examiner reopened the case after the altercation was reported.

Also, Alaska State Troopers seized surveillance videotapes and interviewed all inmates present in the cellblock.

The department said results of a toxicology exam from France's body will be available in about a month.

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