Sean Hysell, a 21-year-old Kemmerer man originally from Evanston, was found dead in his cell last Thursday morning at the Lincoln County Detention Center. According to the sheriff’s office, preliminary reports indicate Hysell died from a self-inflicted injury.
By Bryon Glathar
Gazette Managing Editor
KEMMERER — A Kemmerer man was found dead in his cell in the Lincoln County Detention Center last Thursday, Feb. 27, at approximately 1:45 a.m.
According to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Sean Hysell, 21, son of Janet Mackey of Evanston and Mark Hysell of Kemmerer, appears to have taken his own life.
The new jail, touted by officials for its state-of-the-art safety features, opened just two months before the incident.
According to a press release issued by the sheriff’s office, “preliminary information indicates that Hysell’s death was the result of a self-inflicted injury.”
The release also said Lincoln County Sheriff Shane Johnson has requested an independent investigation, “a routine course of action in unfortunate situations such as these.”
Aside from overwhelming heartache, Mackey said she also feels confused and concerned about how something like this could happen, especially in a newer, safer facility.
“We were finally glad that he was in there, to have the opportunity to get help,” Mackey said. “When he was there, we felt he was safe. It’s a brand new, state-of-the-art facility.”
Although it’s something parents do worry about, Mackey said she never, for one second, saw this coming.
“It could not have been a bigger surprise,” Mackey said. “Everyone worries about this call. But when he went in there, we knew we’d never get this call. We thought he was safe.”
Mackey said officials told her that her son used a towel to hang himself. When she asked why he had a towel, she was told that everyone gets one towel.
She said officials check on inmates every 30 minutes.
“At 1:15 he was fine,” Mackey said. “At 1:45 he was dead.”
Other than that, she said officials aren’t divulging any information about the incident.
Part of her surprise, Mackey said, is because recent events appeared to be positive for her son.
After violating terms of drug court, Hysell was sentenced to a year in jail. He was somehow able to sneak drugs into the jail in January, but was caught with the drugs and was facing a new felony charge, which could have sent him to prison.
However, Mackey said, progress had been made with the pending charge and it was looking as though he would be accepted to a rehab program in Sheridan in lieu of prison time.
“We were trying to get him to Sheridan, in an inpatient rehab program. He emailed me on Monday and Tuesday and he was excited, hopeful to go,” Mackey said.
And Mackey had spoken to her son via webcam the day before that. She said he was in good spirits.
“He was smiling and laughing,” she said. “He looked good and sounded good.”
Speaking to inmates via webcam is one of the new safety features of the jail. But Mackey said there are other issues that need to be addressed regarding safety.
“When he went to jail on Jan. 1, he did sneak drugs in with him. That’s not very secure,” she said. “I think there are cracks in it. The security and safety out there is probably not up to par.”
Sheriff Johnson said safety is a top priority and something officials are always trying to improve.
“Like any facility, we try to prevent these things and have measurements in place to prevent them,” Johnson said. “And we’ll take a look at those measures and see how they can be improved.”
The sheriff said officials didn’t observe any unusual or suicidal behavior from Hysell leading up to the incident. He declined to comment further until the pending investigation is complete.
Had they noticed anything of that nature, a counselor would have been brought in to help Hysell, said Lincoln County Attorney Joshua Smith.
“There are policies in place,” Smith said. “Generally, what would happen in the event that there are any signs or talk of suicide by an inmate, a mental health counselor is called in and [the inmate is] screened.”
By and large, that process has worked, Smith said, adding that suicidal thoughts and behavior are quite common in detention centers, but actual suicides are not.
“It’s worked for us,” he said. “We’ve gotten people treatment who have needed treatment. We’re law enforcement … we’re not mental health professionals, so we just turn those matters over to the professionals.”
Mackey said Hysell, who is originally from Evanston, recently moved to Kemmerer to live with his grandma, Patty Jo Douglas.
“He’s a good kid. But he had gotten into some trouble and was trying to get his life straightened out,” Mackey said. “He had some not-so-good friends here (in Evanston).”
Douglas’ late husband and Hysell’s grandpa Jack Douglas passed away in 2006. But he was more than a grandpa to Hysell, Mackey said.
“He was his very best friend and he just struggled after that,” she said. “He always had a hard time after [losing his grandpa].”
Mackey said her son loved everything about the outdoors. He loved to hunt, fish and spend time in the mountains. He loved riding motorcycles and skateboarding.
She said her son was selfless, always thinking of others before himself.
“He loved his family,” Mackey said. “He thought of everyone before himself. He was a good kid. He had a heart of gold.”
A funeral service for Hysell will be held Friday, March 7, at 1 p.m. at the Almy LDS Ward Chapel, 251 Elm St. in Evanston.