News - McHenry County

Family member of Cary man found unresponsive at McHenry County Jail says death was suicide

Thomas Doheny

WOODSTOCK – The partner of a Cary man found unresponsive Friday at the McHenry County Jail said that the man killed himself because he could no longer keep up with mounting child support fees.

Jail staff discovered Tom M. Doheny, 51, while they were doing rounds at 8:10 p.m. Friday. Doheny was taken by ambulance to Centegra Hospital – Woodstock. Doheny was pronounced dead at 8:53 p.m., according to a news release from the McHenry County Coroner’s Office.

McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski said Tuesday that an official cause of death has not been determined, and she declined to comment on speculation that the death was a suicide. An official statement from the coroner’s office could come in the next few weeks, Majewski said.

The McHenry County Major Investigation Assistance Team continues to investigate Doheny’s death. In an email Tuesday, McHenry Police Chief John Birk declined to comment whether Doheny was on suicide watch. Jail officials did not say what access Doheny might have had to items that could have caused him harm.

Although officials have been tight-lipped, Doheny’s partner, Sandra Avila, said the prospect of remaining at the county jail for unpaid fees he couldn’t afford became overwhelming.

“He did take his own life in there,” Avila said. “He was in contempt of court because he was behind on his child support.”

Avila and Doheny never were legally married, but they celebrated their union Sept. 30, she said. They lived together in their Cary home until Nov. 1, when Doheny was found in contempt of court for unpaid expenses stemming from a 2014 divorce. McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge ordered Doheny to stay at the McHenry County Jail for an “indeterminate period” until he could pay $125,000, court records show.

Neither Coppedge nor attorneys representing Doheny’s ex-wife were available to comment Wednesday.

“How do they expect him to pay for something when he doesn’t have it – and now he’s in jail?” Avila said. “He was trying to make the best he could, and they took that away from him. That’s something that’s wrong with the system, and that’s something that’s got to change.”

Doheny left behind letters for Avila and his children. The letters remained in police custody Wednesday, Avila said.

The father of three spent more than 30 years working in the sewer cleaning industry. He left fond impressions with his customers at Doheny Inc., an industrial equipment supplier in Island Lake, where he used to work.

One of Doheny’s longtime co-workers, Meagan Meyers, recalled her former supervisor as someone with a light heart and good intentions, who liked to let loose with a Jack and Coke.

“I would want [people] to know that he was a very happy person. He always had a smile on his face. He was always a giver, never a taker,” Meyers said. “He loved what he did. He loved his kids. He loved Sandy.”

Avila will host a memorial service for Doheny at noon Saturday at the Cary Country Club, 2400 Grove Lane. As of Wednesday morning, more than 1,000 of Doheny’s friends and family were expected to attend, Avila said.

Official funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald from 2017 through 2021. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.