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Member of well-known Bristol Bay family dies in Palmer jail

Michelle Theriault Boots

Tisha Angasan Rochdi, a 37-year-old mother of three and member of a prominent family of Bristol Bay community leaders, on Tuesday became the ninth person to die in an Alaska jail this year.

Other inmates found Rochdi “unresponsive” in a women’s dorm at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sherrie Daigle wrote in a news release Tuesday.  She had been taken there after an arrest for a probation violation less than 36 hours earlier.

Staff performed CPR but Rochdi was declared dead at 7:07 a.m., according to the DOC.

Authorities have not offered details as to what may have caused Rochdi’s death, but said no foul play is suspected.  

The medical examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine an official cause of death, Daigle said. Results of autopsies are generally not released for more than a month.

Through a statement issued by family friend and Anchorage attorney Sam Fortier, Rochdi’s family members on Tuesday asked for “the press and the public to respect the family’s desire and need for privacy as they grieve Tisha’s loss.”

They also sharply pressed the Department of Corrections to explain what happened to Rochdi.

“They believe the state owes their family and other families grieving the loss of loved ones in state custody answers, now.”

Rochdi was the daughter of Trefon Angasan Jr., who has over the years served prominent roles with the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. He is the chairman of Alaska Peninsula Corp., which represents shareholders in the Bristol Bay watershed area.

Her brother, Brad Angasan, is the head of Wētaviq, a facilities support services company.   

Rochdi lived in Anchorage but the family has roots in Kokhanok and South Naknek, said Fortier.

She had worked as a health aide for the Bristol Bay Area Health Corp., Fortier said. In recent years she’d been working as a consultant for community outreach programs.

Gary Nielsen of Kokhanok wrote on Facebook that Rochdi, his cousin, would “help anyone if they needed it.”

“When my father was dying she was by his side to the end,” he wrote.

Rochdi leaves three children.

Her death is the second loss of a child in a year for her father. Last year on Aug. 27, Rochdi’s half-brother Trapheme Angasan died in an automobile accident in Dillingham.

Rochdi ended up at the Palmer jail after she was arrested in Wasilla Saturday for violating probation on a 2013 felony DUI charge, according to the DOC. She was taken to the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility around 9:15 p.m., Daigle said.  

Rochdi was intoxicated at the time but was “medically cleared at Mat-Su Regional Hospital” prior to being booked, Daigle said.

On the morning she died, Rochdi was housed in a women’s dorm with 19 other female inmates. It’s not clear who last saw her alive, but guards are supposed to check on inmates every 30-45 minutes.

After other inmates alerted correctional officers that Rochdi was unresponsive at 6:30 a.m., staff started CPR immediately, according to Daigle.  

Medics arrived at 6:47 a.m.; one minute later, the Alaska State Troopers were called, according to a trooper dispatch posted online.

By the time troopers arrived at 7:09 a.m. Rochdi had already been declared dead, at 7:07 a.m.

She was the second woman with roots in the Lake Iliamna village of Kokhanok to die in an Alaska jail this year.

On April 10, Amanda Kernak, 24, died at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center.

Kernak, who was in jail on a drunken driving charge, was suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal and was taking medication for a heart problem when she died, her family members have said.  

A fellow inmate previously said that in her last hours Kernak was shaking, vomiting and so ill that she couldn't get off the floor of her cell but got no medical attention.

In June, a state medical examiner’s autopsy found that Kernak’s death was due to "natural causes secondary to complications of severe liver disease.”

Six of the nine people who have died in Department of Corrections custody since the beginning of the year have been, like Rochdi and Kernak, inmates under the age of 40 who died suddenly.