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Seven days before she was to be sentenced for igniting a series of trash can fires in downtown Elizabethtown, a 19-year-old woman committed suicide at Hardin County Detention Center.
Jailer Danny Allen said another inmate discovered Rachel Dembek attempting to hang herself just before 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Dembek died the following day and her funeral was Saturday.
Allen said Dembek, who had been lodged since Dec. 22, never expressed to jail officials a desire to commit suicide or injure herself.
According to the jailer, the staff reviewed Tuesday’s surveillance footage. Allen described Dembek’s demeanor that day as “very upbeat.”
“She was excited and her parents visited that day,” he said. “She told them she was leaving here in seven days.”
Dembek was in the women’s maximum security area, which contains a commons area and several two-person pods, Allen said. After eating dinner with other inmates, Dembek went into her pod and shut the door.
Several minutes later, another inmate went into the pod and found Dembek used a towel to hang herself.
Inmates alerted jail staff at 6:24 p.m. and deputies started CPR, Allen said. According to the Hardin County 911 Center, an ambulance was called to the jail at 6:27 p.m.
Dembek was accused of starting at least eight trash can and Dumpster fires between March 25 and April 18 in Elizabethtown, according to court records. She pleaded guilty Feb. 15 to two counts of third-degree arson, three counts of second-degree criminal mischief and two counts of third-degree criminal mischief.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young said prosecutors recommended Dembek serve an alternative sentence of 100 days in jail to be followed by a 10-year probation at a mental health facility in Massachusetts.
According to affidavits filed in Hardin Circuit Court by Dembek’s attorney, Wesley Durham, the teenager had a documented history of mental health disorders. Since she was 9 years old, Dembek was treated at numerous mental health facilities, according to the affidavit. Just five days after turning 18, she voluntarily discharged herself from a treatment center in Missouri against the advice of treatment personnel.
On Friday, Durham said he was saddened to hear about her death.
“I’m a Christian man and I care about my clients,” he said. “It breaks my heart.”
Norman Chaffins, spokesman at Kentucky State Police Post 4, said Trooper Charlie Miller is investigating the death. State police investigate all incidents of suicide at the jail, he said, and foul play is not suspected.
According to Allen, Dembek’s death marks the third suicide at the jail since he took office just more than two years ago.
Suicides at the jail are going to happen, Allen said. Such incidents are a “tremendous stress” on the staff and inmates, he said.
“We do worry about (suicides),” he said. “You don’t want these things to happen.”
Seven suicides were reported in 2012 in Kentucky jails, according to the Department of Corrections. None were reported in the state’s prisons.
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.