Death of a Tweaker: Washington Man Kills Self in Jail Cell

Jul 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm
Sgt. Jason Grellner says that few meth addicts actually commit suicide while in jail. - Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg
Sgt. Jason Grellner says that few meth addicts actually commit suicide while in jail.
Meth can really screw you up -- and we're not just talking about your teeth.

Heart problems. Strokes. And, as the RFT's Keegan Hamilton reported in a feature story last month, the new shake-and-bake method, in which tweakers whip up batches of the stuff while on the go, has led to a huge increase in people seeking treatment for severe burns. Nasty.

Meth can also make addicts really, really depressed -- which police say led to the suicide of a Washington, Missouri, man in his Jennings jail cell last week.

The investigative report into his death isn't final yet, but police believe Kurt Brannock, 44, was into shake-and-bake -- they found a bunch of paraphenalia around his house when arriving at his house to serve an outstanding warrant July 7. They subsequently booked Brannock into jail on two counts of possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture

On July 11, Brannock hung himself with a bedsheet, says Joe Vaughn, supervising deputy for the U.S. Marshal in Eastern Missouri.

That got us wondering: Do meth addicts do this often? And does the jail system have proper measures in place to prevent addicts coming off a high from taking that drastic step?

Sgt. Jason Grellner, of the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit, tells the Daily RFT that suicides have not, in fact, been a big problem for the area's addict population.

"We've had numerous individuals die of heart attacks while in custody," he says. A tweaker's heart rate increases dramatically while using the drug; while coming off a high in jail, sometimes their heart simply can't handle it, Grellner says.

Suicide is more rare. That may be because there are safeguards, as Vaughn, of the US Marshals, explains.

"We take great pride in the screening of folks," he says. "We do not hesitate to notify the jail and put out an alert, or a suicide watch."

The problem, Vaughn says, is that Brannock didn't present any of the usual warning signs.

"I can speculate all day," Vaughn says, "but there were no indicators or signs suggesting he needed to be on  suicide watch or was in a deep depression."

In the big picture, it's easy enough to see why the guy might have snapped. Grellner, whose agency worked the case, says Brannock had already done a stint in state prison. He'd undergone a messy divorce, which included allegations of domestic violence. He'd been crashing at a friend's home.

"When people are sober, they see the destruction they've caused in their lives and the lives of their loved ones," he says. "When they get that moment of clarity, that's when their mind really starts to go there."

Sobering up in jail surely doesn't help. Nor does knowing -- as Brannock surely did -- that you could be facing up to 20 years in prison.

"I've yet to see someone come in, happy to be here," Vaughn says drily. "They're all depressed to a certain degree."

One more reason, kids, to just say no.