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Parents of mentally ill inmate who died in jail donate to State Hospital South Cemetery

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BLACKFOOT — The parents of a mentally ill man who died in the Bannock County Jail are donating $5,000 to State Hospital South Cemetery.

The cemetery is the resting place for nearly 1,000 patients who passed away over the past century while receiving treatment at the psychiatric hospital in Blackfoot. It had been neglected until 2012 when State Hospital South administrator Tracey Sessions began fundraising campaigns to fix it up. She died of cancer two years ago, and her husband, Blackfoot South Clinical Supervisor Jim Sessions, has continued her mission by establishing the Tracey Sessions Memorial Fund.

“This donation from the Quicks will be a big help to us,” Sessions tells EastIdahoNews.com. “They came down to the cemetery, and I was able to show them around. I think they appreciated what we are doing, and we appreciate them.”

Lance Quick was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence on Dec. 8, 2018, although there was never any evidence of alcohol or hard drugs in his system. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD, he was taking THC gummies and had been prescribed Lithium and Lamictal.

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He was booked into the Bannock County Jail, where staff apparently misunderstood the effects of his lack of medication as drug withdrawals. Quick spent the final six days of his life in a holding cell, with no sink, toilet or bed, experiencing what his family called “manic episodes.” He died Dec. 14, 2018.

“What happened to Lance was preventable, uncalled for, and there are people who could have saved his life,” says Shauna Quick, Lance’s mother. “Everything we do for mental health is in recognition of our son, what he endured and his death.”

RELATED | Prosecutor finds wrongdoing but no criminal action in death of mentally ill Bannock County inmate

Nobody was charged in connection to Quick’s death, and the case has been closed. A civil lawsuit filed by his parents went to mediation and has been settled.

The Quicks had not heard about State Hospital South Cemetery, but after Sessions invited them to see it, they were touched by the countless stories of the deceased patients. For decades, people could drop family members off at the facility, formerly called the Idaho Insane Asylum, and the state would care for them. Patients were called “inmates,” and they often died alone in the hospital. When nobody claimed a body, it was wrapped in a white cloth and laid to rest. The burial sites were originally marked by simple concrete stones, but those were destroyed by weather, vandals and time, leaving all the graves unmarked.

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Tracey Sessions poses at Blackfoot South Cemetery. | Courtesy Jim Sessions

RELATED | Nearly 1,000 Idahoans died alone and were buried in a forgotten cemetery. Here’s how you can help remember them.

Over the past two years, Sessions and dozens of volunteers have used donations to restore the headstones and set 352 in concrete. He plans to have the remaining 648 set in concrete over the next four years. Sessions has also supervised the planting of 40 trees and the Quicks’ donation will help pay to have a sidewalk added to the property.

“This is the largest single donation we have received. The sidewalk is around $28,000, so we still have more that we need to raise, but this will be a big help,” Sessions says. “It’s hard work and very emotional, but it’s a very positive experience knowing we’re doing good for both her memory and honoring the people buried at the cemetery.”

Hospital patients are no longer buried at the cemetery, but the state does cremate their remains, and they can be laid to rest. Plans are in the works for a memorial wall to be placed on the property, along with a new fence and a paved parking lot.

The Quicks say they appreciate Sessions’ “noble” cause and plan to do more to raise awareness of mental health issues.

“It is heartwrenching to think these patients had been forgotten until Tracey started to put the wheels in motion to get this going. It looks like they have had good success with fundraising, and hopefully, with this contribution, it can help move it along,” Quick says. “Mental illness is a situation in our society that seems to be put on the backburner all the time. Our goal is to help others and help in meaningful ways.”

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