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Hernando County Jail inmate went days without medical help

John T. Wells was 43 years old when he was booked into the Hernando County Jail for the last time. He died soon after from a blood vessel rupture in his brain.

His wife and sister both worry that he was a victim of shoddy care at the jail. Wells' death on Jan. 27 was the fourth of an inmate since November and came on the same day as the jail's third recent suicide.

Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the jail for the county, refused to discuss the specifics of Wells' case. But spokesman Steven Owen said the jail was not responsible for Wells when he died because the State Attorney's Office had dropped charges against him on Jan. 10 when prosecutors deemed him "terminally ill."

Wife Elizabeth Wells doesn't buy that. "As far as I'm concerned, the jail is responsible," she said. "It's real easy to say he wasn't one of their inmates, but when John went to the hospital twice, he was one of their inmates. He was in a facility that should have taken care of him."

The autopsy report and the Sheriff's Office investigation have not been completed, so there are still some unanswered questions.

His last experience with the Hernando jail began on Dec. 20, when he was arrested on charges involving passing a counterfeit $50 bill and possession of a crack pipe.

The jail gave him a medical examination the day after he was booked in and found no problems. But once he was in jail, his head started to hurt.

An inmate in the same cellblock said Wells cried for days.

On Jan. 2, he was taken to Brooksville Regional Hospital. Medical records show that his eye was swollen so much he couldn't open it. He rated the pain 10 on a scale of 10 and told the doctor he had been suffering for three days.

A CAT scan was ordered. Sinusitis was the diagnosis. He was returned to the jail that day with a prescription for antibiotics and a note that he would have a follow-up appointment with jail doctor Robert Blackburn in three days.

But the problem worsened within hours of Wells' return to the jail, according to Blackburn's notes, which are included in medical records obtained by the family.

"Approximately 2.5 to 3 hours later I received another telephone call from the Nursing Staff stating that they had noticed change of mental status with the patient. Apparently he was having difficulty walking. He was unable to swallow his pills and actually kind of spit the antibiotics out. They felt that the patient was having significant changes," Blackburn wrote.

Wells was taken to Spring Hill Regional Hospital, where he suffered a brain hemorrhage behind his left eye that would leave him incapacitated and ultimately end his life.

Blackburn, who was unavailable for comment last week, tried to have Wells transferred to Tampa General Hospital, but that never happened.

Instead, Wells lay brain dead in his bed for three weeks as doctors contemplated taking him off life support. No one knew he had a wife who worked in Brooksville; a sister, Nancy Shave, in Clearwater; or a brother, Steven Wells, in Sumter County. That was discovered only when the hospital-appointed guardian, Joel Kriley, tracked down Elizabeth Wells on Jan. 24.

The family gathered in Wells' room at Spring Hill Regional Hospital. They were told there was no chance for recovery. At 5 p.m. on Jan. 26, Elizabeth Wells signed the papers to take her husband off life support. He died the next morning.

Wells' condition drew the attention of fellow inmates. In a phone interview from jail, Steven Masciarelli described how Wells had suffered for days without receiving help. "He was up in the cell complaining all night long that he needed medical attention. The corrections officer told him, "You're pulling my leg,' " Masciarelli said. "The nurse took him up and said there was nothing wrong with him. . . . Finally they brought him to the hospital."

John Wells was born in St. Petersburg, raised in Bushnell, and married twice. He is survived by his 18-year-old son, Justin.

Researcher Catherine Wos contributed to this report.