Parents of deceased inmate claim wrongful death in lawsuit against state

In a lawsuit filed against the Oregon Department of Corrections, parents claim their son reported serious symptoms to staff in the days leading up to his death. (FILE/The Enterprise)

ONTARIO – Parents of an inmate who died last spring at Snake River Correctional Institution are suing the state, claiming negligence by state workers led to their son’s death.

Anita and William Puckey last week sued the Oregon Department of Corrections and four of its employees in Malheur County Circuit Court, seeking $9 million.

Wynn Puckey, 27, was an inmate at Snake River Correctional Institute, serving a sentence for convictions in Marion and Washington counties.

The complaint said that Puckey was “in good health” but on March 4 “experienced symptoms including shortness of breath, fever, chest pain, and coughing up blood.”

“On multiple occasions, including on or about March 7,” he reported his symptoms to corrections staff and requested treatment, it said. “On these occasions he was briefly seen” by staff, “sent back to his cell without being treated” and continued to experience the same symptoms.

Puckey again reported the symptoms – “shortness of breath, fever, chest pain, and coughing up blood” – to staff on March 8 at midnight, but he was “again briefly seen” by staff “and sent back to his cell without treatment,” the complaint said.

Staff found him 8:30 that morning “coughing up blood and wheezing” in his cell, and they called emergency dispatch 30 minutes later, according to the complaint. An ambulance transported him to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario.

“At the emergency department he continued coughing up blood. His condition worsened; he was in critical condition and needed to be intubated,” the complaint stated. He was airlifted to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

Puckey died of pneumonia at the hospital later that day, according to the complaint. His parents argue his death could have been avoided.

The complaint stated the department’s “conduct unreasonably created a foreseeable risk of harm” to Puckey, and that his medical treatment “fell below the standard of care.”

“Had Wynn Puckey been a free person, he would have sought the appropriate treatment immediately and had some form of treatment rendered,” the complaint said. The department “did not meet its obligation to provide for health care, in compliance with appropriate professional standards” and the four staff “were deliberately indifferent” to his medical needs by not testing or treating him despite his symptoms and allowing them to continue until he died.

The complaint said the plaintiffs’ loss of their son “resulted in emotional distress and loss of his economic contribution to the family.” They are seeking judgments for economic damages not to exceed $2.5 million and noneconomic damages not to exceed $6.5 million.

The parents couldn’t be reached for comment.

The state’s Department of Corrections declined to comment due to pending litigation.

News tip? Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian by email at [email protected] or call 503-929-3053.

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