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I-TEAM: Edgefield County prison death raises questions for family

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 7:54 PM EDT
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EDGEFIELD COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - An Aiken family has a lot of questions about what happened to their loved one who died last week in a South Carolina State Prison in Edgefield County, so they reached out to the I-Team for help. We spent the day today trying to get answers.

One week ago, Beverly Pilz got the call her son was found unresponsive in his cell at the Trenton Correctional Institution.

“Please don’t tell me that. Take it back. It’s like, Just don’t tell me that. Don’t say that. Because it’s like, if you don’t say and it won’t be real,” said Beverly.

Jeremy Ray Kelley, a father of two, was only 44 years old. As family started to plan his funeral, the phone calls kept coming.

“From inmates – saying, ‘You’re not hearing the whole story. Do not believe what they are telling you,’” said Beverly.

One of those inmates told her Jeremy gave him her name and number the night before staff moved him to another dorm – in case anything happened to him.

“He was dead that next day, that next morning,” she said.

Autopsy reports are still pending, but Chrysti Shain, director of communications at the South Carolina Department of Corrections told the I-Team, “Staff performed CPR, mouth-to-mouth and used an AED to try to revive him before EMS arrived.”

But that’s not what the family says they’re hearing from multiple inmates.

“That the machines didn’t work. They didn’t know where the machines were. They didn’t know how to use them,” said Beverly.

Then the funeral director told the family of some cuts on the body that were worth asking questions about, like cuts on his hand. The funeral director was later told the pathologist did that during the autopsy. The family hopes the autopsy report will explain. The I-Team asked the Edgefield County coroner about it.

We asked if the coroner noticed anything that was “off,” any wounds to the body.

“My deputy coroner responded, but he did not notice anything out of the way that I was told, at that time. That’s why we do an autopsy from an institution like that. It’s automatically done by law,” said David Burnett, Edgefield County coroner.

The Department of Corrections also confirms, “No obvious signs of trauma and we do not suspect foul play, but we do not have the autopsy or toxicology results yet.”

Nothing you’ve seen so far raised any red flags to you?

“Nothing has raised any red flag to the Coroner’s Office. We are still waiting on results from the autopsy. And as soon as we get those, we will certainly tell you whatever they are, whether it be natural or anything other than that, it will be known,” said Burnett.

In the meantime, Kelley’s family tells the I-Team they can’t ignore what inmates are telling them.

“You have to look into that. Jeremy was too good a man to let this go. Please don’t let this go. Why would they tell us all this? Why would they go to the trouble?” said Beverly.

“Right! To get themselves in trouble to tell us this,” said Rick Pilz.

So they say they aren’t just asking questions for their son they feel like they have to ask them for every inmate in that prison.

“Their words were, he could have been saved,” said Beverly.

“He didn’t have to die,” said Rick.

“They did not – he did not have to die. And that just tears me up knowing I could have had my son here today,” said Beverly.

The prison chaplain tells the family inmates are holding a memorial service for Jeremy Kelley on Wednesday and they plan to join in by Zoom. The Edgefield County coroner says it could be weeks before the autopsy and toxicology reports are released and of course, the I-Team will keep you updated.

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