SEORJ Jail 2

The Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail in Nelsonville.

Records released by the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail last week shine further light on the death of an SEORJ inmate at a Columbus hospital after being transported from the jail. 

According to the records, Jennifer Ohlinger, 38, of Gallipolis, fell and hit her head on a bench at the jail on the morning of June 25 while having “what appeared to be a seizure,” according to SEORJ Officer Charity Lowery’s retelling of the events in an incident report provided by the jail.

Ohlinger was taken to her bed in her cell after being checked out by the jail’s nurse, Lowery reported; not long after that, she had another apparent seizure in her bed, and she was then brought to the jail’s medical room; after her vitals were checked, she was taken back to her cell. Roughly 90 minutes later, according to Officer Lowery, she was sent back to Ohlinger’s cell.

“As we entered the block, several inmates said to me, ‘she is dead;’ I asked, ‘who are you talking about,’” Lowery reported. “They informed me it was inmate Ohlinger, Jennifer. Myself and Officer Dennis Rosser entered (the cell) and checked for a pulse, no pulse could be found. The inmate was foaming at the mouth. I then radioed for the nurse to come to A-Block. I met him at the 1-100 door and advised him we couldn’t find a pulse. He entered the room and checked for a pulse again, he began chest compressions, and advised me to go and get the AED (defibrillator)”

The NEWS previously reported that Athens County EMS was called immediately, after which Ohlinger was transported to OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. 

The jail’s investigation into Ohlinger’s death was ongoing as of Friday, Warden Joshua VanBibber told The NEWS that day, and won’t conclude until after the jail has received a report from the Franklin County Coroner’s Office.

According to VanBibber’s narrative in the incident report provided last week, he followed the ambulance to O’Bleness, where he reported that ACEMS staff told him they were able to “get a pulse back on” Ohlinger. She was taken to the emergency department, and after receiving treatment there was transported by helicopter to Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus.

A Franklin County Coroner’s Office clerk confirmed with The NEWS on July 11 that Ohlinger was pronounced dead at 9:42 a.m. on June 26 at Riverside in Columbus, the day after she was transported from the jail. The coroner, Dr. Anahi Ortiz, said in a brief email on July 10 that a final coroner’s report will take around 12 weeks to be filed in the case of the woman’s death. She declined to provide any other details, but did confirm that a report will be filed in the case. 

Three sources (two of whom are members of Ohlinger’s family) have told The NEWS on background that Ohlinger was going through drug withdrawal when she arrived at the jail, although it’s not clear which specific drug (or alcohol) was involved. She was at the jail for a little less than a week before she died (she arrived on June 20). A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help Ohlinger’s family pay for her funeral expenses at www.gofundme.com/jennifer-ohlinger039s-funeral-expen.

VanBibber in the interview Friday asked that people wait for the jail’s full investigation to finish before passing judgment on the incident.

“…It’d be very difficult for me to be in the mind of someone that was dealing with this situation,” he said. “People should probably wait for all of the facts of the case to come out before they pass judgment on people doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. I have the utmost confidence in my employees so I heavily rely on their expertise and their opinions regarding incidences, so if they deemed it necessary for her to be transported by emergency medical services then they would have (done so). At this point we have to wait for more information to come from the coroner’s report to see what the underlying reason happened to be.”

The nurse at SEORJ who treated Ohlinger prior to her being transported from the jail gave a limited recounting of the events in the incident report provided by the jail. The nurse, James Grey, recalled performing CPR on Ohlinger on the morning of June 25, but did not mention seeing Ohlinger before that point (including either of the two instances of Ohlinger allegedly having a seizure and Grey being called to check on her, as Officer Lowery reported in her narrative).

VanBibber explained Friday that Grey’s narrative doesn’t include the two previous incidents because they likely were logged in Grey’s nursing notes separately.

“He probably has some information but I can’t tell you ‘yes or no’… because I don’t pass on medical information, but I’m sure he has more information in her medical records,” VanBibber said, adding that more information will be included in the final report of investigation.

SEORJ Officer Cody Gilbraith also confirmed in his incident report narrative that during the morning of June 25, Ohlinger was walking to get clothes during a clothing exchange and fell and “hit her head.” He said that Grey responded to this initial incident. He also noted that the Athens County EMS arrived quickly after being called that morning after it was reported that Ohlinger stopped breathing in her cell.

VanBibber said that the jail’s investigation has involved review of camera footage in the jail, and confirmed that the cameras show that Ohlinger was taken out of the cell at one point and brought to the medical room.

In his recounting of the incident in his incident report narrative, VanBibber noted that he and another jail staff member drove to Columbus to check on Ohlinger as she was being flown by helicopter to Riverside Hospital. He recalled waiting at the hospital for updates on Ohlinger, and noted that he “overheard” the doctor at the hospital advising Ohlinger’s family members on her condition.

“He (doctor) advised them that he believed that Inmate Ohlinger suffered some sort of hemorrhage inside her brain which caused her to become unresponsive,” VanBibber reported. “He also advised them that he saw swelling around her brain that appeared to have happened over an extended period of time.”

According to Officer Lowery’s account, after Ohlinger initially hit her head “pretty hard,” Grey entered the block to “check her out” and advised Lowery to help her to “her bed”; at approximately 7 a.m., inmates advised Lowery that Ohlinger was “having another seizure”; Ohlinger was “escorted” to the medical room at approximately 7:17 a.m.; Grey checked her vitals and gathered a sample of her urine, and then advised Lowery and another officer to take Ohlinger back to her bed; on the next walkthrough, Ohlinger appeared to be “fine”; then, at approximately 9:13 Lowery and another officer responded to the cellblock to reports of Ohlinger not breathing. Grey then arrived and performed CPR.

Ohlinger was indicted in Athens County Common Pleas Court on one charge of receiving stolen property last year, and was later indicted on one count of burglary, two counts of theft, one count of theft from a person in a protected class and one count of forgery.

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