By Lisa Black, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — Hundreds of people turned out for funeral services Wednesday for Lyvita Gomes, a native of India who died after launching a hunger strike at Lake County Jail following a bizarre series of events that began with her failure to respond to a jury summons.
About 200 people attended mass at Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Waukegan, where the Rev. Daniel Hartnett posed questions about Gomes’ death while offering spiritual comfort to her family. Indian Catholic community leaders, immigration reform activists and others joined about 500 who attended a visitation on Tuesday night.
“She was a woman of faith, a woman of prayer,” Hartnett said during the Mass. “She should not have died the way she died. My prayer is that her death contribute to better justice in our world.”
About 120 people, including 20 local pastors, signed a “statement of concern” that will be presented to Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and asks a set of questions about Gomes’ treatment before and during her incarceration.
Gomes, 52, a former Delta Airlines trainer who lived in a Vernon Hills hotel the past few years, died on Jan. 3 at Waukegan’s Vista Medical Center East after launching a hunger strike 15 days earlier while in jail, where she had shown signs of mental illness.
Curran has defended the care she received in jail, saying administrators relied on a medical staff’s advice before transporting her to a hospital five days before her death. A county public defender, though, said his office attempted to have Gomes hospitalized and was trying to speed up a fitness hearing without success.
By the time she was hospitalized, it appeared that her condition was so grave, “there was nothing they could do,” said Greg Ticsay, a public defender. He said that his office was not told that Gomes had refused food and water until Dec. 27, a week after she had been moved to the jail’s medical unit.
On Wednesday, Curran said that he is conducting an internal review of the timeline and records related to Gomes’ incarceration and custody.
During the funeral, Gomes’ brother-in-law thanked the community for its support and said Gomes’ death “has raised the issue of social justice in the world.”
“The family and public at large wish to learn the truth about why she died,” said Rodney Fernandes, whose wife, Lyema, is Gomes sister. The couple traveled from their home in England for the funeral.
“Was it because of her ethnic or immigration status or her mental status?” he asked.
As a noncitizen, Gomes wasn’t eligible to serve on a jury, but ignoring a jury summons last summer led to a charge of resisting arrest when a deputy showed up at her door, as ordered by a judge, to explain her absence. She spent two days in the county jail, where officials learned her visa had expired.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said the agency started deportation proceedings and then released her. Lake County soon dropped the jury duty case, but the resisting arrest charge lingered. Gomes missed two more court dates, and again, a judge ordered her arrest.
Gomes received a mental health screening upon her arrival at the jail on Dec. 14, said Wayne Hunter, acting chief of jail operations. She was referred to a psychiatrist, who discussed medication with Gomes, who refused to take it, Hunter said.
Funeral director Alfredo Miranda, who has been the main contact with Gomes’ family, said that he believes the county should have acted more quickly to prevent her from becoming dehydrated.
“Something went wrong,” he said. “It’s hard to hear, ‘We did such a great job,’ yet someone died. It doesn’t quite make sense.”