SEBRING – Two Highlands County Jail inmates have died this week in unrelated medical incidents, according to officials from the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
The first incident occurred at 4:18 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4 when 53-year-old Rodney Leonard Walker of Lake Placid was found unresponsive in his bunk suffering what appeared to be symptoms of a stroke. He was transported to Highlands Regional Medical Center and then to Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce. Walker was pronounced deceased on Thursday, Dec. 6 in Fort Pierce.
According to officials, inmates said that Walker had appeared fine earlier, but began to complain of a severe pain in his head while watching television. He tried to make it to his bunk, but had to be helped there by other inmates, who notified detention deputies of the issue. Nurses on duty in the jail immediately responded to assess Walker, and then notified EMS.
Walker had been in the jail since Aug. 23, 2018 after being charged with burglary, drug possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Authorities say that on Friday, Dec. 7, an inmate died from what appeared to be a heart attack. Gerald Anthony Heyward, 45, was pronounced dead at Highlands Regional Medical Center after collapsing just after 2 p.m. while walking through his housing unit. Detention deputies and medical staff immediately began CPR, which was continued in the ambulance en route to the hospital with no success.
Heyward, who is from Sebring, had been in jail since Nov. 28, 2018 after being arrested on a violation of probation charge stemming from a 2017 conviction in Highlands County for sale of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell, sale of cocaine, and possession of cocaine with intent to sell.
Neither inmate had any disciplinary records or incidents with other inmates while in the jail, and a review of security camera footage inside the jail showed nothing unusual before the two inmates suffered their medical emergencies.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Unit is investigating, as it does with any unexplained death. Official causes of death will not be known until after autopsies are complete, including toxicology reports, which will likely take many weeks.
“Our hearts go out to the families of these two men,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said. “We have a highly trained medical staff on duty at all times and a doctor makes rounds at the jail on a regular basis. We offer a high level of care to our inmates, but we have seen a steady increase in their average age and are seeing more and more inmates arrive at the jail with serious medical issues.”