Woman's death from hunger strike leaves behind many questions

Updated 1/8/2012 6:38 PM

When 52-year-old Lyvita Gomes died in Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan Tuesday morning after a prolonged hunger strike, she left behind very little beyond a nurse's description of a woman with a beautiful English accent.

On her intake form at the Lake County jail, where she stayed before being taken to the hospital, the native of India listed no relatives.


She did, however, leave behind many questions, which the Lake County Sheriff and Coroner are now trying to address.

Her death was the end of a bizarre saga that began with a failure to answer a jury summons and ended with her succumbing to dehydration and malnutrition, according to Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey.

Gomes' last address was the Homestead Studio Suites Hotel, 675 Woodlands Parkway in Vernon Hills, according to published reports.

Her recent history with law enforcement officials began in October, when sheriff's deputies sought her at the Vernon Hills address to serve her with a civil warrant for failure to appear for jury duty. During the service of the warrant, she resisted deputies, refusing to place her arms behind her back, authorities said. They arrested her for resisting arrest.

While she was in the Lake County jail, it was discovered that there was a hold placed on her from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She was then turned over to immigration authorities.

From there, the trail becomes somewhat murky, officials said.

"Once you're released into ICE custody, it's kind of like you're in a black hole. ICE does not report back to us what happens," said Chief Wayne Hunter, the sheriff's head of administration. "We can only assume, because she was back out on the street, that one of two things happened: either ICE decided they were not interested in her. Or the (federal) magistrate gave her a court date and told her to report back."

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Whatever happened, she once again came into contact with Lake County authorities because of her failure to appear in court on the resisting charge.

On Dec. 12, sheriff's deputies arrived at the Vernon Hills address to serve her with a warrant but did not find her there. Two days later, Vernon Hills police located Gomes and arrested for failure to appear.

She was then remanded to the county jail, where she began her hunger strike.

"When she started her hunger strike is still unclear," Hunter said, adding that the sheriff's office is still sifting through daily log entries to determine the exact date. "I believe she may have started the hunger strike immediately."

An autopsy last week attributed her cause of death to dehydration and malnutrition. But the coroner said his office is reviewing medical records to tie up any loose ends.

Gomes was moved to Vista on Dec. 29, one day before she was scheduled to attend a court hearing to determine her mental fitness to stand trial. Lake County authorities had moved the date up from Jan. 5 after learning of the hunger strike.


"There are a number of different strategies that you employ with an inmate that is declaring a hunger strike," Hunter said. "One of the things we did with Ms. Gomes was invite her attorney to come in and talk to her to reverse her decision.

"Ultimately we can't force them to eat."

However, once the medical unit at the jail determines that the person is in danger, the decision is then made to transfer the inmate to the hospital.

Hunter said he was told that the hospital started her on an IV immediately.

"It was never communicated to me that they force fed her," he added.

Both the coroner and the sheriff are looking wherever they can -- including the Internet -- for anyone who may have been connected to Gomes.

"No one has come to claim her," Hunter said. "Of all the painful things ... it's bad enough this poor woman ends up passing away. (But) we have no family."

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