Dustin Halsaver

SAEGERTOWN — For the second time in the past two and a half years an accused killer has committed suicide at the Crawford County jail by hanging himself.

Dustin Halsaver, 34, of Meadville was alone in his cell when he was found hanging at 12:05 a.m. by a jail guard, according Scott Schell, Crawford County coroner. Halsaver's suicide is under investigation by the Crawford County Coroner's Office and Pennsylvania State Police at Meadville.

Halsaver's death is the second suicide by a homicide suspect at the county jail in Saegertown since November 2013.

Richard Houy, 68, of Cambridge Springs hanged himself Nov. 2, 2013, inside his cell using a bed sheet. Houy was accused by Pennsylvania State Police of killing his daughter's live-in boyfriend in September 2013, partially dismembering the man's body and stuffing some of the man's remains inside a barrel. Houy allegedly admitted to the killing in an interview with state police.

Halsaver was scheduled to stand trial in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas in May on homicide and related charges for the September 2015 slaying of his father. On Wednesday, Judge John Spataro named Meadville attorney J. Wesley Rowden as Halsaver's special court-appointed attorney for Halsaver's upcoming trial after attorneys from the Crawford County Public Defender’s Office asked to be excused from the case, citing an ethical conflict with Halsaver.

Halsaver used a bed sheet to hang himself from the upper bunk inside his cell, Schell said. A search of the cell by state police, jail officials and the coroner's office found no suicide note left by Halsaver, according to both Schell and Tim Lewis, the jail's warden.

"We did not find any type of communication that he left," Schell said.

Halsaver, who had been an inmate at the Crawford County jail since Oct. 14, 2015, was not under a suicide watch, Lewis said.

"He gave no indication whatsoever he was trying to harm himself," Lewis told the Tribune.

All inmates are evaluated by onsite medical staff when they arrive at the jail, Lewis said. Inmates also may receive mental health and abuse counseling while in jail as they are subject to additional evaluations, Lewis said.

"They're evaluated every five days," Lewis said of ongoing additional screenings by counselors and mental health professionals at the jail. "He was not in any (mental health or substance abuse) program. He did not exhibit any abnormal behavior."

A jail guard had checked on Halsaver at 11:34 p.m. Thursday and found no problems, both Schell and Lewis said. When a check was made at 12:05 a.m. Friday, Halsaver was found to have hanged himself, Lewis said.

Halsaver was given immediate medical attention at the scene by jail staff including a registered nurse and taken to Meadville Medical Center by ambulance, Lewis said.

Halsaver was pronounced dead at Meadville Medical Center's emergency room at 12:50 a.m. Friday by Dr. Kevin Kraeling after attempts to revive Halsaver failed, Schell said.

Schell ruled Halsaver's death a suicide caused by suffocation due ligature strangulation. Just six pounds of pressure on each of the two carotid arteries within the neck can cause a person to pass out. When a person passes out, gravity then pulls on the body’s weight, increasing pressure on the carotid arteries, and the person suffocates, Schell said. 

No autopsy has been scheduled on Halsaver's remains, though toxicology testing will be done. Toxicology testing is the sampling of tissue, blood and other body fluids.

Halsaver was in the cell alone after Halsaver's cellmate had been removed 9:59 p.m. Thursday due to another unrelated incident Halsaver's cellmate had with another inmate earlier in the evening, according to both Lewis and Francis Schultz, Crawford County's district attorney. Halsaver's cellmate was taken out and placed in a restricted housing unit because of the unrelated incident, Schultz said.

"He (the cellmate) was removed earlier because of an altercation," Schultz said. "There was no argument between him and Halsaver."

Video surveillance cameras at the jail showed the corrections officers making their rounds. There are no video cameras in individual cells because it would be considered an invasion of privacy under the law plus there would be expense and staffing issues, according to both Lewis and Schultz. 

“We can’t have a camera in every cell,” Schultz said. "It would be impossible to monitor all inmates 24/7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) with staff, and there'd be privacy issues."

Schultz, who serves as chairman of the Crawford County Prison Board, said the suicide will be reviewed by the Prison Board. The board is scheduled to meet Thursday at 8:30 a.m. at the county jail.

Due to the county’s classification, the state requires the Prison Board to be comprised of the county’s three commissioners, treasurer, sheriff, district attorney and a county judge. Members of the Crawford County Prison Board are Commissioners Francis Weiderspahn Jr., Chris Soff and John Amato, Treasurer Christine Krzysiak, Judge Spataro, Sheriff Nick Hoke and District Attorney Schultz.

Schultz said he doesn't have a definitive answer for either of the suicides.

"It's something to talk about with the board," Schultz said. "I don't want to see anybody hurt themselves at the jail."

Schultz said guilt may have been a factor in both the Houy and Halsaver deaths.

"The case against him (Halsaver) was overwhelming," Schultz said.

Halsaver was charged by state police at Corry with criminal homicide, theft by unlawful taking and other charges for allegedly killing his father, Kenneth G. Halsaver. Jr., 74, at Kenneth’s home near Townville. Kenneth was found dead inside his home at 16080 Mercer Road in Richmond Township around 12:25 p.m. Sept. 22, 2015, by a family member after Kenneth failed to show up for work that morning. The Crawford County Coroner's Office ruled Kenneth's death homicide after an autopsy found a gunshot wound to Kenneth’s head and a secondary gunshot to the neck.

Dustin allegedly fled the home in his father's pickup truck and was captured by state police in Centre County the night of Sept. 22, 2015, following a high-speed chase on Interstate 80 and other roads in Centre County. That chase lasted more than 30 minutes and covered approximately 40 miles with speeds at times greater than 100 miles per hour, according to police. Spike strips were used successfully to puncture the truck’s tires, and Halsaver was taken into custody without incident.

The alleged handgun used in the Halsaver shooting was found inside the truck and shell casings from that gun were found at the crime scene, according to the arrest affidavit filed in the case. The state police crime laboratory determined through testing that the shell casings found and the bullet recovered from Kenneth's body were fired from the handgun which was recovered from Halsaver's truck, according to the affidavit.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

Story first online Friday at 8:32 a.m.

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