Inmate dies in cell at Hiland Mountain women's jail

Michelle Theriault Boots

A 24-year-old woman incarcerated at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center was found dead in her cell Thursday, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation said.

Amanda Kernak, of Kokhanok, was the second young inmate to die in an Alaska jail within a week.

The death was reported to the Alaska Bureau of Investigation at 1:35 a.m. last Thursday, on April 10, the bureau said in a press release Monday.

Kernak "was found unresponsive in her room by correctional officers performing a routine security check," the release said.

The bureau said "no foul play" is suspected and the woman's family has been notified of her death.

Officials did not initially release a cause of death, saying complete autopsy results will take more than a month.

Kernak was arrested on one misdemeanor count of drunken driving and entered the Hiland jail on April 8, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kaci Schroeder.

Records show she was never arraigned on the misdemeanor drunken driving charge. She died two days later.

Kernak's aunt said her niece was struggling with alcohol abuse and had recently developed a troubling heart condition. "She was having heart problems for the last two months," said Alina Cobb.

Cobb said she's been told little about the circumstances of her niece's death. The family wonders if Kernak was going through alcohol withdrawal in jail at the time of her death, she said.

Schroeder would not say whether Kernak was detoxing from alcohol in the jail. She said generally the DOC provides medically supervised withdrawal from alcohol. Inmates are sent to a hospital if they are showing signs of "severe withdrawal," she said.

Kernak was in a "general population" unit of the jail with at least one roommate at the time of her death, Schroeder said.

Cobb, the aunt, said the Department of Corrections was scheduled to release Kernak's body to her on Tuesday.

A funeral in Kokhanok, a village of 127 people on the south shore of Lake Iliamna Lake in Southwest Alaska, is planned.

Kernak had been living in Anchorage for about a year and a half, Cobb said.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation did not release basic information about the death until after a reporter called about it on Monday, five days after Kernak's body was found.

A department spokeswoman blamed the delay on an "archaic" computer system.

A news release -- standard for most in-custody deaths -- was supposed to be posted Saturday, said Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Alaska Bureau of Investigation.

"It looks like they tried to send it and it didn't go through," she said. "It's not like we were trying to hide anything. They actually tried to send it."

The death happened less than a week after Davon Mosley, a 20-year-old mentally ill man, died alone in his cell at the Anchorage jail.

Mosley's family says they have so far received no official explanation about the circumstances of his death, or marks found on his body.

They raised $1,500 to do a second, independent autopsy on the Bakersfield, Calif. man.

Cobb said her family is also in the dark about what led to Amanda Kernak's death at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center last week.

"We sure want to know what's happened and why she died in jail," she said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.