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Westmoreland

Westmoreland County Prison inmate death sparks investigation

Renatta Signorini
| Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, 10:54 a.m.

The Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office is investigating an apparent suicide last week at the Hempfield jail, said District Attorney John Peck.

Nathan James Chavez, 43, of Arnold apparently hanged himself in a cell a day after being arrested on a robbery charge, Peck and Warden John Walton said. He died at a Pittsburgh hospital.

Chavez was found during a regular check by a corrections officer, Walton said.

Brent Chavez said Monday his brother donated his organs and at least two people benefited.

Nathan Chavez was being held on $75,000 bail on police accusations that he tried to rob a New Kensington pharmacy on Dec. 3. He allegedly claimed to have had explosives on him while demanding Percocet, an opioid prescription painkiller, at the Town and Country Pharmacy on Freeport Road.

A motorist flagged down a police officer and directed them to bushes in front of an abandoned house on Earl Avenue, where Nathan Chavez was found hiding, police said. An employee identified him as the suspect.

District Judge Frank Pallone on Wednesday changed Nathan Chavez’s bond to $75,000 unsecured at the request of the district court administrator Don Heagy, who said that the change allowed sheriff’s deputies to cease guarding the inmate at the hospital.

Brent Chavez said his brother’s kindness was masked by years of struggling with a drug addiction. He said his brother never expressed suicidal thoughts in the past and Chavez questioned how he was able to hang himself in jail.

“He had a good heart, he allowed the drugs to be more powerful in his life than his good heart,” Brent Chavez said. “I don’t know what could’ve changed it.

“Unfortunately, he allowed (drugs) to lead him around his whole life. It unfortunately led him to this.”

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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