Jason Eugene Braswell's family gathers as life support turned off

Caldwell County jail inmate hanged himself Jan. 19
Feb. 05, 2013 @ 10:09 AM

A year ago, 53-year-old Linda Philyaw was told her lung cancer had spread. The ravages of cancer have aged her beyond her years, but she fights it with every breath she takes. She is wheelchair-bound, an oxygen tank strapped to the chair's back to help her breathe. But she has outlived her prognosis by six months.

Long enough to experience a parent's nightmare -- outliving a child.

Her 33-year-old son, Jason Braswell, hanged himself Jan. 19 in the Caldwell County Detention Center. When jail staff found him, he was still alive, but the lack of oxygen to his brain left him unable to recover. For two weeks he lay unresponsive in a hospital bed in Room 9610 at the Carolinas Medical Center Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit in Charlotte. A ventilator did the breathing for him.

His family could no longer bear to see him hooked up to the machines. In recent days, he also had been suffering seizures. Dr. Jerry Martin told Braswell's family he was not getting any better despite all efforts.

The family made the heart-wrenching decision to turn the machines off.

At 2:25 p.m. Sunday, Philyaw struggled out of her wheelchair to stand up, leaned over her son and said her final good-byes. At 2:40 p.m., with family members gathered at the bedside, the hospital chaplain said a pastoral prayer. Then, at 2:49, the ventilator was shut off. Braswell’s lifeless eyes blinked a few times, as they had for the past two weeks. His sister, Kim Adams, wiped his forehead and whispered into his ear. His organs slowly began to shut down. A nurse injected morphine. He continued to draw air into his lungs, though struggling, his shoulders rising and falling with each labored breath.

Finally, his heart stopped beating, and at 5:31 p.m. Jason Eugene Braswell was pronounced dead. He left behind a 13-year-old son, Cody, a grieving family and the family's unanswered questions.

Braswell was jailed on Jan. 16 after the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office received a breaking and entering call in the Cajah's Mountain area. Several items of gold jewelry and prescription medication had been reported stolen from Philyaw’s home. Braswell and his girlfriend, Jennifer Gilbert Watson, were named as suspects. The stolen jewelry was recovered from a business that buys gold, and Braswell and Watson were arrested shortly thereafter.

Braswell was charged with felony possession of stolen goods, misdemeanor larceny, and a litany of drug charges. Watson was charged with obtaining property by false pretense and given a written promise to appear.

On Jan. 19 between 2:30 and 3 p.m., Braswell was found in his cell by jail staff slumped from a bedsheet wrapped around his neck and tied to a bed post. Staff called 911, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Braswell was taken to Caldwell Memorial Hospital and then Carolinas Medical Center, where he was placed on life support.

Braswell's father, Calvin Braswell, says doctors estimated Braswell had been oxygen-deprived for almost an hour. He also says he had called the jail and Braswell’s probation officer prior to the arrest to say his son wanted to kill himself, and he asked for the jail staff to keep an eye on him. Capt. Marc Jardon of the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office has said that the jail “absolutely had no evidence (Jason) was thinking about suicide,” and there was no documentation at the jail reflecting that Braswell may have been suicidal. The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the hanging.

Meanwhile, Philyaw, who counts her life in days, prepares to bury her son.

At the hospital Sunday, she watched her daughter, Kim Adams, cry next to Braswell as she held his hand, stroked his arm, adjusted his hospital gown, patted him comfortingly. Through the hours, she occasionally leaned in and whispered to him.

When asked Monday in a text message about what she whispered, she replied, "I whispered in his ear a bunch of times yesterday, but that's personal."