|Investigation under way into inmate’s death
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of an inmate that occurred Thanksgiving morning (Nov. 23) at the Montgomery County Regional Jail.
Jail staff found Ryan Alan Smallwood, 25, of Frenchburg, unresponsive during a cell check about 7 a.m., Sheriff Fred Shortridge said. The death is a suspected drug overdose, Shortridge told the Advocate.
Smallwood was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph Mt. Sterling Hospital, where he was pronounced dead by Montgomery County Coroner Jimmy Adams at 7:55 a.m.
His body has been sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Frankfort for an autopsy. The examination will include a toxicology screen that should determine if any drugs were in his system, Adams said.
Shortridge said there are no other indications of foul play. If the toxicology screen comes back positive for narcotics there could be criminal charges, the sheriff said. He said authorities have identified a suspect in the case, but no charges have been filed to date.
“Once the tox (screen) comes back that is going to shed a lot of light on which way we go,” Shortridge said.
Adams said he expects autopsy results, including the toxicology screen, to be available in two to three weeks.
The inmate’s mother, Jennifer Combs Smallwood, told the Advocate she is in search of answers of her own—most notably how drugs may have gotten into the jail and available to her son.
Smallwood claims jail staff have not been forthcoming with information thus far and says everything she has learned she has gained from inmates who were reportedly incarcerated with her son at the time of the incident.
The mother said fellow inmates allege that another inmate came in overnight with a bag containing a combination of heroin/fentanyl. That inmate allegedly sold part of the drugs to Smallwood, inmates claim.
Smallwood’s mother says inmates claim by breakfast at 6 a.m. her son was feeling poorly.
His legs reportedly became shaky and a fellow inmate claims to have urged Smallwood to lie down on the bed, which he did, his mother said she was told. A short time later Smallwood was reportedly found lying face down dead on the bed, she said.
The mother said she is unsure of how jail staff learned of the death.
She claims Smallwood had been clean for the eight months he had been incarcerated and would not have been prepared for any effect drugs could have on his body.
Jennifer told the Advocate she never thought that any harm could come to her son while he was incarcerated.
“I thought my son would be safe when he was in there, but it’s not so,” she said.
Smallwood’s mother said her concern now is making sure that jail staff do more thorough checks on inmates entering the jail.
“I don’t want to see it happen to another family,” she said. “That’s my goal.”
Smallwood was being held at the jail on charges of first-degree burglary and failure to appear. He also had a holder from the U.S. Marshals’ Service, but the nature of those charges were not immediately known, Shortridge said.
Jailer Eric Jones told the Advocate he cannot comment while the matter is under investigation.
Smallwood was born in Mt. Sterling Dec. 30, 1991, to Jennifer Combs Smallwood and the late David Stephen Smallwood.
Ryan loved hunting and fishing and being outdoors, according to his obituary.
In addition to his mother, Ryan is survived by a son, Tyson Smallwood of Means; a daughter, Riley Smallwood of Means; and a brother, Cody Smallwood of Frenchburg.
Funeral services were held Tuesday at the Taul Funeral Home Chapel in Frenchburg with Rev. David Hale officiating. Burial was in Lovelace Cemetery.