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Child molester died from complication from COVID in Pendleton prison, coroner says

PENDLETON, Ind. (WISH) — A prisoner at the Pendleton Correctional Facility died from complications of having COVID-19, the Madison County coroner said Friday.

The death of William Payne, 56, was confirmed in a Friday autopsy, said Madison County coroner, Dr. Troy A. Abbott in an email to News 8.

Payne was jailed after his conviction and 2003 sentencing in Marion County on multiple counts of child molesting, according to an Indiana Department of Correction database.

The announcement of Payne’s death came a day after the Indiana Department of Correction said five prisoners at the Pendleton Correctional Facility are believed to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease. No deaths have happened due to the Legionnaires’ disease, the department said in a Thursday update.

In his autopsy, Payne was tested for Legionnaires’ disease; the test was negative, Abbott said Thursday night in an email to News 8. 

All five believed to have Legionnaires’ disease were hospitalized for treatment during the outbreak, said a news release issued Wednesday from the Department of Correction. The bacterial lung infection can be treated with antibiotics.

“The sickened individuals all reside in two units of the facility,” the release issued Wednesday said.

The Indiana Department of Correction release on Wednesday also shared a fact sheet from the CDC about the disease that is usually spread through water droplets in the air. “Toilets and drinking water are not affected since the bacteria is spread through water droplets that are inhaled,” the release said.

The Thursday update from the Department of Correction (IDOC) said, “Testing continues within the facility to determine the source of the bacteria, and appropriate remediation will be based upon those results. Results could take several days. While awaiting results, IDOC has taken several steps to protect staff and the incarcerated population against exposure. The bacteria is spread via aerosolized water droplets. Toilets and drinking water are safe, and the disease is not spread person-to-person.”

The maximum security prison built in 1923 can incarcerate up to 1,800 men, the Department of Correction says on its website. The facility is about a 45-minute drive northeast from downtown Indianapolis.

Before the cases at the Pendleton prison, the most recent reported outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in the world happened in April and involved a few members at a large Indianapolis gym with a pool, locker room and various sports courts, according to HC Info, which tracks the ailment for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, the rate of reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease has grown by nearly nine times, to about 10,000 cases, from 2000 to 2018, according to information on a CDC webpage.

A Department of Correction spokeswoman told News 8 that officials are investigating how prisoners contracted the disease.

About 15 out of 100 people who get Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection, according to the CDC.