E. Texas man dies after 26 unconscious hours in jail

By Morgan Thomas - email

SAN AUGUSTINE, Texas (KTRE) - A Broaddus woman says her husband died unnecessarily while in jail. She believes he never should have been taken into custody in the first place.

According to Marilyn Stagner, her husband, Ben Murray Stagner, 75, was taken into custody on Dec. 18 around 3 p.m. when someone called police saying a man was lying asleep in front of his vehicle, in the Mike Perry Chevrolet parking lot at 3 p.m.

Stagner said she was in the hospital when police took Stagner to the San Augustine County Jail, and did not learn he was there until 1 p.m. on Dec. 19.

Stagner said jail employees told her he was drunk and had not waken up yet. She said she told them he should have already been awake and believed he may have fallen and hit his head, which knocked him unconscious.

Stagner said her husband suffers from weak legs and often would hold onto her when they walked. She also admitted he was an alcoholic and was probably drunk at the time police found him.

Stagner said her husband was taken to a San Augustine hospital at 6 p.m. that day, about 26 hours after police first found him unconscious. When he did not wake up there, he was taken by ambulance to a Houston hospital early Monday. He was pronounced dead at 9:45 p.m. that night.

Stagner said the doctor told her it appeared her husband died from severe head trauma, and he may not have died had he been taken to a hospital after police found him. She said the body was sent for an autopsy.

Texas Ranger Pete Maskunas confirmed he is investigating the death and could not comment further on the case.

San Augustine County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Gary Cunningham said Tuesday afternoon that EMS workers recorded normal vitals for Ben Stagner, but he wishes now they had just taken him to the hospital for a more thorough examination.

Cunningham said Stagner was somewhat responsive at the dealership, saying he had done nothing wrong and did not know why he was in trouble. He also said he was needing to go to Livingston, which Marilyn Stagner said would have been a red flag, since he lived there 20 years ago.

He said when jail staff called him to report Stagner had not woken up, he told them to take him to the hospital.

The sheriff's office is conducting an internal investigation into the matter, Cunningham said.

A supervisor with Freedom One Ambulance Services declined to comment on the incident and would not confirm if the EMS workers had been terminated.

Marilyn Stagner said Tuesday she was meeting with a lawyer to determine possible civil action.

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