A 26-year-old man who died last November in the La Plata County Jail suffered a bruise that led to a blood clot that ultimately caused his death, but authorities are unsure how the man became injured.
Vicente Lucero was let out of his cell the morning of Nov. 3 and, soon after, collapsed in a common area of the cellblock. He was pronounced dead at Mercy Regional Medical Center about 7:30 a.m.
Lucero was being held on suspicion of burglary and assault after reportedly walking naked and threatening to kill people in the 8100 block of County Road 203, north of Durango in the Animas Valley.
When deputies responded, Lucero ran into a woman’s house and locked the door. When she ran out the back door, he threw the woman against a post, which resulted in injuries to the woman that required hospitalization.
Lucero then fled the house and ran to Hermosa Creek. He sat in the middle of the creek for 20 minutes before he was taken into custody.
Lucero was in jail for eight days before he collapsed.
According to a final autopsy report, a bruise on his leg formed a blood clot and then moved into his lungs. La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith ruled the death natural.
Smith said there was no record of Lucero having bruises at the time he was booked into La Plata County Jail. She said it appeared the bruises had been there for a few days before Lucero collapsed and died.
Authorities reviewed surveillance footage from a motion-activated camera of Lucero’s entire eight-day incarceration, said La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith.
Because the death occurred at the La Plata County Jail, which is run by the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, investigators with the Durango Police Department and Coroner’s Office reviewed the tapes.
During that time, there was no evidence indicating how Lucero got the bruises that led to his death, Coroner Smith said.
“He never had an interaction with any other prisoner,” Smith said.
While not technically in “solitary confinement,” Sheriff Smith said Lucero was kept away from other prisoners.
“He was dealing with mental health issues at the time of his arrival (to the jail),” Sheriff Smith said.
The sheriff said authorities tried to get Lucero care elsewhere, but he declined to comment further on the matter.
Surveillance footage showed that Lucero bumped into objects in his cell, like the bed frame, Coroner Smith said. It’s possible even a small bruise could result in a blood clot and lead to life-threatening circumstances, the coroner said.
“You can fall down and get a bad bruise, and most of the times it won’t clot,” she said. “But sometimes it does.”
Ultimately, the coroner said investigators were unable to pinpoint how Lucero received the bruises.
It’s unclear if there was any period of time that Lucero was in a position to not be caught on camera.
Sheriff Smith said there are motion-activated cameras in the jail. He also said the jail was switching out an old camera system to a new system. But even then, he insisted if a camera was down in one section of the jail, another camera was able to capture the goings-on.
Sheriff Smith said the independent review cleared jail staff of any possible wrongdoing in Lucero’s death.
The toxicology report showed Lucero had traces of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his system at the time of his death, but authorities don’t believe that contributed to his death.
No other drugs or alcohol were found in his system.
The coroner said investigators did not see Lucero use marijuana during the eight-day, around-the-clock surveillance footage. But she said it’s unlikely the THC was from before he was booked, given the levels that were found in his system.
Prisoners were able to come up to his jail cell, she said. But investigators don’t know where the marijuana came from.
Lucero’s wife, Rosa, said in a previous interview that her husband suffered from manic depression and bipolar disorder. In October, his mother suffered a stroke and his medication was changed, she said.
Rosa Lucero could not be reached for comment Monday.
“He’s a good, wonderful, playful person,” she said in November. “He had a heart of gold. Every time I was sad, he would try to make me laugh.”