Florida Keys

Sheriff’s office: Keys inmate dies after apparent seizure in cell

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This aerial photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau shows the historic Seven Mile Bridge.
This aerial photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau shows the historic Seven Mile Bridge. AP

A 28-year-old inmate at the Stock Island jail died just after 12 a.m. Saturday following an apparent seizure, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said.

Michael Gunderson of Sugarloaf Key was arrested on drug and other charges Tuesday in the Lower Keys when he was pulled over for a traffic stop after other motorists reported him driving erratically. He was being held on $22,000 bond.

Deputy Becky Herrin said that about 11:30 p.m. Friday, a guard saw Gunderson on the floor of his cell with a blanket on him. Gunderson had no cellmate and was alone. Herrin said the guard opened the door and told Gunderson to get back onto his bunk.

He didn’t respond and the guard, she said, believed Gunderson was having a seizure; nurses on duty and firefighters responded. Gunderson was taken to Lower Keys Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Foul play isn’t suspected, Herrin said. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate.

Gunderson, who worked as a commercial driver in Key West, was arrested near mile marker 8. His felony charges were possessing heroin and cocaine, and having a controlled substance without a prescription. Misdemeanor counts were failure to register a motor vehicle, driving with a suspended license, and marijuana drug-paraphernalia possession.

Deputy James Hager was patrolling at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday when he got a call from dispatch about a reckless driver, who turned out to be Gunderson, in a white pickup heading south on U.S. 1, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

The agency received a complaint that the driver was passing in a no-passing zone, hitting his brakes too much and had a plant hanging out the passenger-side window.

Hager was waiting at mile marker 8 when Gunderson passed him. Hager wrote that he followed Gunderson for a mile and that Gunderson had his left blinker on the whole time. Gunderson abruptly switched lanes from left to right and braked, causing another vehicle to brake to avoid a collision.

That prompted Hager to pull Gunderson over. Hager wrote that he saw Gunderson throw something out of the window into the mangroves. Gunderson later told Hager it was a cigarette but the deputy was unable to find it.

Hager wrote that while he was handcuffing Gunderson, he saw a small pink bag containing a white powder on the driver’s seat. That gave Hager probable cause to search the vehicle, where he found other bags with marijuana and heroin. The arrest report states Gunderson had .1 grams of cocaine, .5 grams of heroin and 5 grams of marijuana.

When questioned, Gunderson said he injected the heroin because his back hurt and he wasn’t prescribed pain pills. He attributed the cocaine to a “crack whore who was riding with him the day before.”

Sheriff Rick Ramsay said since police around the country have been shutting down pill mills — operations where a doctor or pharmacy prescribes prescription drugs to those that don't need them — heroin use is increasing.

“It’s a lot cheaper than other drugs,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll see an overwhelming problem with heroin here. But we’re seeing a lot of different change.”

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