Family of Marengo man who died at hospital while an inmate in McHenry County jail files wrongful-death lawsuit

Lawsuit focuses on jail medical provider, claims Donald Hamer was ‘worsening with every passing moment’

Donald Edward Hamer Jr., 56, (inset) had been held in the McHenry County Jail for a few days before he died in October 2022. Now his family is suing over his death. The McHenry County jail is shown in the background image.

A Marengo man who was held in the McHenry County jail for five days in 2022 before being transferred to a hospital died from a “lack of proper medical care” leading to his “slow and painful decline,” according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by his family.

The jail’s medical provider Wellpath, its staff, McHenry County and McHenry County Sheriff Robb Tadelman are named as defendants in the lawsuit filed by the family of Donald Edward Hamer Jr., who was 56.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Western Division of the Northern District Court of Illinois by Chicago-based law firm Ott Law Group P.C.

Hamer’s death on Oct. 9, 2022, occurred before the four reported deaths of inmates at the McHenry County lockup in 2023, but it was not previously reported. Tadelman was not yet sheriff at the time; he became undersheriff in 2022 and, after the November election that year, was sworn in Dec. 1, 2022.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in September, alleges “wrongful conduct and medical negligence” at the jail, despite visible signs of mental and medical decline during the five days Hamer was housed there before he was taken to a hospital.

Hamer was arrested about 10 p.m. Sept. 20, 2022, and charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence after a single-vehicle crash in which his car landed in a ditch, according to the lawsuit and court records.

His blood-alcohol content was .083, just above the legal limit, according to the lawsuit.

At the time of the crash, witnesses said Hamer “appeared unsure of his surroundings and was disoriented and confused,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit cites jail logs taken the next day indicating that Hamer told jailers he “drinks daily,” and that he had “lost 20 pounds in a few months.” It also was noted that he appeared “thin and unhealthy.”

Hamer signed a disclaimer at the jail giving consent for Wellpath, the company that provides medical care at the jail, to provide health care services.

The intake nurse, aware of his condition, used a standard form titled “Alcohol, Opiates, Synthetic and Other Drugs Nursing Documentation Tool” as a guide to treat him. The form is used only for a person “identified as high-risk substance withdrawal,” according to the lawsuit.

His legs still appeared to be unsteady, and he was “placed on alcohol-withdrawal protocols,” according to the suit.

These protocols indicate that “every effort is to be made to initiate medication within four hours of identification,” and staff should “call provider to initiate appropriate orders,” according to the suit.

However, the lawsuit asserts: “Despite the multitude of factors indicating a significant health concern impacting [Hamer], he was not initially placed into a medical observation cell.”

That same day, his pulse dipped to 54 beats per minute, below the 60 beats per minute that is an indicator based on Wellpath’s “score sheet” for alcohol-withdrawal symptoms.

But the lawsuit asserts that the nurse on staff did not act accordingly.

“There is nothing indicating that any actions were taken by either [the Wellpath nurse] and or any other agents of [Wellpath] to either contact the [Wellpath doctor] to discuss this information or take other relevant action to protect” Hamer’s well-being, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that sheriff’s jail staff were aware that Hamer needed “a much closer level of medical care and evaluation.”

Throughout the subsequent days, according to the lawsuit, Hamer’s medical care and ongoing evaluations were limited, and he was “not being properly monitored.”

Hamer is described as exhibiting “odd behavior” and refusing medications, according to jail documents quoted in the lawsuit, which asserts that Wellpath staff did not make any attempts to ensure he received any of the medications prescribed for someone experiencing alcohol withdrawal.

During the five days before being transferred to the hospital, nurses and sheriff’s deputies noted Hamer’s declining medical and mental health, according to the lawsuit.

Hamer appeared “more off-balance and unstable,” had trouble standing and walking, was falling and needed help from corrections officers, according to the suit.

His cell was in disarray, and food was spilled on the floor and his bunk. He had trouble swallowing pills, eating and drinking fluids, and was aspirating, meaning pills, food and liquids were entering his lungs, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said that based on Wellpath’s medical knowledge, “it should have been very clear” that Hamer was rapidly deteriorating medically and mentally.

Corrections officers moved Hamer to the medical pod, and as they did, he was so fragile that he could “barely perform a task as simple as adjusting his sock, let alone being able to stand and move on his own without substantial assistance,” according to the lawsuit.

The medical agency also is accused in the lawsuit of not providing a “medically appropriate substitute of the medications and vitamins” through an IV.

Additionally, no doctor from Wellpath ever responded to calls from a nurse seeking consultation, according to the suit.

Had medical staff properly evaluated Hamer, they would have known he “was experiencing liver failure related to his ongoing cirrhosis, further worsening the severity of his overall condition since arriving at the jail,” according to the lawsuit.

Hamer was transferred to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital on Sept. 25. He was placed in the intensive care unit shortly after he arrived and died Oct. 9.

Hamer’s cause of death was end-stage liver disease due to cirrhosis, and the manner of death was natural, McHenry County Coroner Michael Rein said.

Troy Owens, chief of litigation in the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, represents the sheriff’s office and the county in the civil lawsuit.

Owens cited the contract signed between Wellpath and the sheriff’s office, noting that Wellpath agreed to provide medical care for those who are detained.

“Obviously, our officers are not medical professionals,” said Owens, adding that the county still is awaiting a response from Wellpath in the matter. “The lawsuit alleges care was below the standard for ordinary care for medical professionals.”

Owens said he had not yet filed a response to the lawsuit and is awaiting an indemnification statement from Wellpath releasing the county and sheriff’s office from any liability in Hamer’s death.

“We made a demand for Wellpath to acknowledge their obligations of indemnity and to defend the lawsuit,” Owens said. “They have not acknowledged their duties yet. If they don’t, we will sue them.”

The sheriff’s office did not comment on Hamer’s death other than to note that Hamer was not an inmate at the time of his death.

Hamer’s family, in a statement released through their lawyer, described him as a “loving and devoted father” to his sons Robert and Rick, who was passionate about his career in the tooling industry for almost 30 years.

“Some of his favorite hobbies included camping, diving and following Nascar,” his family said. “He also loved Chicago sports, which he passed down to his children, who will carry that love on.”

Multiple attempts to reach a representative of Wellpath or a lawyer for the company were unsuccessful.