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Suicide unlikely to prompt changes at prison

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2003

GREENSBURG - Westmoreland County officials said procedures at the prison where a 23-year-old inmate committed suicide Monday probably won't change.

Lee Vincent Guiser, 23, of 740 Robbins Station Road, North Huntingdon Township, was found in his cell at the Westmoreland County Prison in Hempfield Township at 10:35 a.m., with a bedsheet wrapped around his neck. He was jailed Friday after being charged with robbery and theft in connection with the robbery of S&T Bank in Youngwood.

A spokesman for the family declined comment.

Coroner Ken Bacha has ruled the death a suicide. Guiser died of asphyxiation resulting from hanging, he said. There were no signs of a struggle.

Bacha said prison cells contain shelving units designed to prevent inmates from attempting to take their own lives, but "they think of ways to circumvent that."

Guiser had been sick. He had vomited earlier, Bacha said. But there was no indication that he was at high-risk to commit suicide.

"His paperwork showed no red flags. He came up clean," Bacha said. Prison board Chairman Tom Ceraso said the response to the discovery of Guiser's body was swift and appropriate.

Inmates are screened by the prison's medical unit before admission, Ceraso said. There was no indication that Guiser intended to take his own life.

If an inmate is determined to be a suicide risk, he is placed on a suicide watch. That includes 24-hour video surveillance.

"We have the right things in place, if we know," Ceraso said.

A written report from prison Warden Mike Millward was expected to be submitted to the prison board late yesterday afternoon. Barring an unusual finding, Ceraso said there would likely be little change in the policies and procedures at the prison.

The prison board consists of the three county commissioners - Ceraso, Tom Balya and P. Scott Conner - as well as Sheriff Chris Scherer, District Attorney John Peck and Controller Jeff Pavetti.

Balya agreed that changes weren't likely. While the review process was in its early stages, it didn't look like major revisions would be called for, he said.

"Procedures• Everybody followed them," he said.

Conner agreed with the other commissioners. "It was a tragic incident, but given the confines of the prison, it would be hard to prevent in the future without putting everybody on 24-hour watch," Connor said. "Our facility did what it had to do."

Inmates can become suicidal at any part of their stay, but high-risk periods include the time immediately after admission, after adjudication, when returning to their cells, after receipt of bad news regarding themselves or their families, and after suffering humiliation or rejection, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections.

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