Family questions jail hanging

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 1999

FAYETTE – According to his family, Plaze Thomas had a lot to live for.

&uot;He was happy. He loved life,&uot;&160;said his sister, Victoria &uot;Ann&uot; Hughes. &uot;He wouldn’t have committed suicide.&uot;

Thomas, 39, was making a living doing what he loved – fixing cars as a self-employed mechanic.

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He loved his family, especially doting on his niece and nephew. His father, Willie Hughes, described him as &uot;a nice boy … who never harmed nobody.&uot;

So Victoria Hughes and other relatives refuse to believe that Thomas hanged himself in the Jefferson County Correctional Facility Saturday night.

She said sheriff’s office officials refused to allow the family to see Thomas’ body. The first time they saw him, she said, was Tuesday morning at Rollins Funeral Home.

But county Coroner Will Turner Sr. said no one refused to let the family to see the body.

Victoria Hughes said the family has not been able to contact Sheriff Peter Walker for more information since he came to their home in rural Jefferson County late Saturday night to tell them of Thomas’ death.

By that time, about 11 p.m., the family had already heard rumors of Thomas’ death from neighbors, she said.

Personnel at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday afternoon that Walker was still out of town due to a illness in his family.

On Saturday afternoon, Thomas was arrested by Fayette police on traffic charges. According to his family, Thomas had been jailed on similar charges several times before. He was booked into the Jefferson County Correctional Center, where he was found dead in his cell by jail guards between 7 and 8 p.m., during a routine check of the jail, Turner said.

Thomas had apparently climbed on a top bunk and used a twisted sheet to hang himself from an air conditioning grate in the ceiling, Turner said. He said he expects to receive the results of an autopsy by the state medical examiner today.

On Tuesday afternoon, as Thomas’ mother, Evelyn Hughes, stood silently outside her trailer, Ann Hughes told of the rumors she has heard about Thomas’ death.

Some say hung himself in his cell or in a nearby bathroom, or that a jailer beat Thomas prior to his death, she said. Turner said Thomas hung himself in his cell and that there is no truth to the other rumors.

&uot;I can promise you that he was not beaten,&uot;&160;Turner said. &uot;There was not a mark on his body.&uot;