Broaddus man dies after 26 unconscious hours in jail

Ben Stagner photo courtesy of Marilyn Stagner.
Ben Stagner photo courtesy of Marilyn Stagner.
Marilyn Stagner
Marilyn Stagner

SAN AUGUSTINE, TX (KTRE) - By Morgan Thomas - email

SAN AUGUSTINE, Texas (KTRE) - A Broaddus woman says her husband died unnecessarily while in jail. She believes he never should have been taken into custody in the first place.

According to Marilyn Stagner, her husband, Ben Murray Stagner, 75, was taken into custody on Dec. 18 around 3 p.m. when someone called police saying a man was lying asleep in front of his vehicle, in the Mike Perry Chevrolet parking lot at 3 p.m.

Stagner said she was in the hospital when police took Stagner to the San Augustine County Jail, and did not learn he was there until 1 p.m. on Dec. 19.

Stagner said jail employees told her he was drunk and had not waken up yet. She said she told them he should have already been awake and believed he may have fallen and hit his head, which knocked him unconscious.

"It is just crazy," she said. "The whole thing is crazy. I don't understand - I'll never understand why those people did that."

Stagner said her husband suffers from weak legs and often would hold onto her when they walked. She also admitted he was an alcoholic and was probably drunk at the time police found him.

Stagner said her husband was taken to a San Augustine hospital at 6 p.m. that day, about 26 hours after police first found him unconscious. When he did not wake up there, he was taken by ambulance to a Houston hospital early Monday. He was pronounced dead at 9:45 p.m. that night.

"Nobody stays asleep drunk 26 hours," Stagner said.

Stagner said the doctor told her it appeared her husband died from severe head trauma, and he may not have died had he been taken to a hospital after police found him. She said the body was sent for an autopsy.

Knowing Ben has a medical condition, Marilyn says she called the jail continually asking them to wake him up.

"I said he has a shunt in his head and when he fell he could've done something to that shunt," she said.

Texas Ranger Pete Maskunas confirmed he is investigating the death and could not comment further on the case.

San Augustine County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Gary Cunningham said Tuesday afternoon that EMS workers recorded normal vitals for Ben Stagner, but he wishes now they had just taken him to the hospital for a more thorough examination.

Cunningham said Stagner was somewhat responsive at the dealership, saying he had done nothing wrong and did not know why he was in trouble. He also said he was needing to go to Livingston, which Marilyn Stagner said would have been a red flag, since he lived there 20 years ago.

He said when jail staff called him to report Stagner had not woken up, he told them to take him to the hospital.

The sheriff's office is conducting an internal investigation into the matter, Cunningham said.

"Just to ensure there was no criminal violations and at this point I'm going to say I found nothing to suggest that any kind of crime actually took place," Cunningham said.

Still, a major change in policy is being requested.

"Anytime a law enforcement officer summons an ambulance to the scene and asked for a person to be checked out that they probably should just arbitrarily transport them to the local hospital," he said.

Cunningham says he doesn't want law enforcement making medical decisions.

The grieving widow hopes that by telling her story, this doesn't happen again.

"He was my soulmate," she said. "He's the only man that truly I know loved me with all his heart and I did him."

A supervisor with Freedom One Ambulance Services declined to comment on the incident and would not confirm if the EMS workers had been terminated.

Marilyn Stagner said Tuesday she was meeting with a lawyer to determine possible civil action.

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