LARGO — A 41-year-old man who fell ill in the Pinellas County jail later died of the coronavirus, according to Medical Examiner and court records.
Antonio Marroquin III, of Myakka City, is believed to be the first jail inmate to die of COVID-19 in the Tampa Bay region. Jail officials in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties have all reported positive cases among inmates.
Marroquin was booked into the Pinellas jail in April on federal drug charges, records show. He was transferred Aug. 15 to Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg to receive medical treatment for conditions including hypoxia and fluid in his lungs.
On Aug. 18, he was on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma, according to court records. He died a week later, on Aug. 25. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner listed his cause of death as COVID-19.
“He was a hard-working man that had two teenage kids and a loving wife for a long time,” said his lawyer, Stephen Crawford.
Marroquin’s widow declined to comment.
It’s unclear where or when Marroquin contracted the virus. Bill Pellan, the director of investigations for the Medical Examiner, said it doesn’t appear that he contracted it at the hospital because he tested positive soon after he was admitted. A sheriff’s spokeswoman said Marroquin was not tested while in jail.
The Sheriff’s Offices in Hillsborough and Pasco counties said they’ve had no inmates die of COVID-19, which would make Marroquin the first inmate in the Bay area to die of the virus.
The Tampa Bay Times recently learned of Marroquin’s death from Medical Examiner records. Jail officials usually alert the news media when someone dies in custody. But Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Marroquin was not in the custody of his agency. Marroquin was being held through a housing agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service, which means he was officially in federal custody while staying at the county jail.
“We don’t consider this an in-custody death,” Gualtieri said.
Jail records show that on Aug. 20 a federal judge set Marroquin’s bail at $50,000 so that he could be released from pending trial. He was technically released on Aug. 24 — while hospitalized, the day before he died — so the Marshals Service didn’t consider it an in-custody death, either, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Ron Lindbak.
The sheriff questioned whether Marroquin died solely of the virus, pointing to his underlying health conditions. He added that the virus outbreak at his jail is under control, with only a handful of inmates positive. Gualtieri himself tested positive for COVID-19, the agency announced on Aug. 15, but has since recovered and tested negative.
Crawford said his client did have preexisting conditions, including diabetes and a heart condition. He said the jail’s medical staff did the best they could under the circumstances, even checking his blood sugar three times a day. But the lawyer said the sheriff’s assessment of his client’s death was not fair.
“A lot of us have preexisting conditions, but it is not until you catch the virus that those preexisting conditions and the virus kill you,” he said. “So no, I’m not going to minimize what his death was. The medical examiner has it spot-on.”
Drug Enforcement Agency agents arrested Marroquin and a co-defendant April 23 on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, according to court records, which is about 11 pounds. He pleaded not guilty, although his lawyer noted it would have been a hard case to win.
“This whole thing is unfortunate,” Crawford said. “We don’t impose the death penalty for a drug charge.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said the Medical Examiner’s report showed the inmate was tested on dates when he was in the Pinellas County jail. The agency says that was an error.
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