Death by ‘Excited Delirium’
Grotesquely swollen and bloodied, Alphie Herrera had about two hours to live by the time his family was allowed into his hospital room.
He was taken there from Lehigh County Jail, where he had lost consciousness after a 17-minute struggle in which guards sprayed him with pepper foam, strapped him to a chair and put a hood over his head.
A few months earlier, Herrera, the father of three sons and three stepdaughters, was working at a warehouse to support his family. Then, in January 2013, he went to prison for breaking the terms of his probation for stealing video games from Kmart more than a year earlier.
Two months into the sentence, Herrera was convulsing on a cell floor and his roommate was shouting for help. Herrera emerged from the seizure disoriented, confused and combative, fighting corrections officers who were trying to keep him on the floor, according to an account of the incident in an autopsy report.
The kicking, flailing, biting and spitting continued after Herrera was handcuffed and sprayed with pepper foam, prompting as many as seven guards to intervene. Using their hands and knees as well as headlocks, wristlocks and stepping on his right arm, the guards struggled to subdue Herrera and strap him into a restraint chair, the autopsy report says.
There he sat for a short time with a hood covering his face until he lost consciousness in the prison infirmary, where he was taken after being restrained, according to the report. At Lehigh Valley Hospital, he would languish in a coma-like state for nearly a day before his family was let in to say their goodbyes, relatives said.
His ex-wife, Carmen Rivera, was among the three relatives in the room Feb. 28, 2013, as Herrera, 39, of Bethlehem, took his last breaths.
“They didn’t want us to see him the way he looked,” said Rivera, who took cellphone photos of Herrera connected to life support machines, his eyes blackened and blood caked around his nose and mouth.
He didn’t resemble the man she had married 13 years earlier.
“It was a zombie,” Rivera said.
Herrera, the Lehigh County coroner’s office ruled in August 2013, died of a condition called excited delirium in association with a seizure disorder he had for years. The manner of death — accidental, natural or homicide — remains listed as undetermined.
Writer bios: Peter Hall, who was raised in the Philadelphia suburbs, covers federal courts and legal issues for The Morning Call. He wrote for the Easton Express-Times and Caulkins Media before joining the Allentown-based daily newspaper in 2011. Kevin Amerman, a graduate of Archbishop Wood High School, worked at the Pocono Record and Wilkes-Barre Times Leader before joining The Call in 2007. Amerman currently serves as City Editor for The Citizens’ Voice.