Inmate’s death under investigation

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comJune 10, 2014 

Whether the apparent suicide last month of an inmate in federal custody at the Fresno County Jail could have been prevented remains under investigation.

Richard Wilson Key Jr., 37, a federal employee charged with planting two bombs in Madera County, died May 26 in a Fresno hospital, three days after he reportedly jumped off a second-tier walkway at the jail.

Key, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee, was indicted May 22 on charges of planting pipe bombs at the Crossroads Christian School in Madera on May 4 and a Shell gas station in Chowchilla on March 28, according to the FBI.

Fresno County sheriff’s Sgt. Brad Christian said investigators believe Key deliberately jumped off the walkway May 23 and was hospitalized.

“He was conscious and alert and gave a statement that indicated he intended to harm himself,” Christian said.

It remains unclear whether Key had been placed on suicide watch, or if his death could have been prevented. Deputy Chris Curtice said he could not comment on those questions as they are part of the department’s ongoing investigation.

DeDe Cordell, an Army Corps spokeswoman, said the agency was aware of Key’s death.

“This has truly been a shocking and terrible situation for everyone involved, and our thoughts and prayers are with Richard’s family,” Cordell said. “We’re also concerned for our employees who worked with and cared about Richard, and we’re doing whatever is needed to help them through this difficult time.”

Had Key been convicted on the bomb-planting charges, he would have faced a potential life prison sentence, according to court documents, and investigators believe that was his motive for suicide.

Key was arrested May 8 in connection with the two planted explosives. Both suspected pipe bombs were safely defused and caused no injuries. Investigators found a third suspected pipe bomb when they arrested Key, the FBI said.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno, the first pipe bomb was found March 28 outside the Shell gas station in the 100 block of North Chowchilla Boulevard in Chowchilla.

“Written on the top of one of the caps in black pen were the words: ‘Pull to open’ and a smiley face was drawn on the bottom of the cap,” the complaint says. “The writing … demonstrated that this bomb was manufactured for the purpose of killing or seriously injuring an unsuspecting victim.”

Children at a private school owned by Grace Community Church found a similar device May 4, the FBI said.

Authorities have not commented on possible motives in the case.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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