Franklin County

Family of woman who died in Franklin Co. jail sues jailer

The family of an El Salvadoran woman who committed suicide at Franklin County Regional Jail while awaiting deportation has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the jailer.

Ana Romero, 44, was found hanging in an isolated cell at the jail on Aug. 21, 2008. The suit also names two health service organizations as defendants.

The state medical examiner's autopsy said Romero died of asphyxiation within minutes after hanging herself by a bed sheet.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court.

The plaintiff is Shelbyville's Mario Aguilar, Romero's brother-in-law and administrator of her estate.

The defendants are Jailer Billy Roberts, Southern Health Partners Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn., Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board Inc., Lexington, and Andrew C. Schenck, who performed a follow-up mental health assessment Aug. 20.

The lawsuit claims Romero didn't receive proper medical care in jail, and shouldn't have been there on the day she took her life.

Romero was in the U.S. illegally and was supposed to be deported in August 2008.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement had 48 hours to pick her up for deportation. But the lawsuit claims those 48 hours passed, Romero wasn't picked up, and that she was then kept illegally at the Franklin County jail.

In 2008 ICE said Romero died one day before it would have been able to take her into custody, and every effort was made to pick up illegal aliens within 48 hours.

The lawsuit alleges Romero didn't receive proper medical care in the last 10 days of her life.

It claims Romero was put on suicide watch, but was taken off of it by a social worker.

The suit also alleges Roberts "acted wantonly, willfully, with gross negligence and/or in reckless disregard for the life and safety" of Romero.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, but Romero's family members said they just want answers.

Three years before her death, Romero came illegally to Kentucky from San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, "to live the American dream, like every Latino who comes here," Aguilar told The State Journal in an interview shortly after her death.

"She wanted to work hard to do better, to make a better future for her kids and to send money to help her mother," who was 92 when Romero died.

Romero had two sons in El Salvador.

Just after Romero's death, Roberts told The State Journal, "I'm tore up about this. My staff did everything they could to try to save her. It's just a very unfortunate circumstance and I feel for her family."

Claims made in a lawsuit give only the plaintiff's side of the case.

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