Thursday, August 15, 2002

Man who died after arrest was ex-con with drug past

By Jennifer Edwards,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — The man who died in police custody early Tuesday after his arrest for drug possession was just released this spring from state prison on two drug convictions in 2000.

        James “Greg” Baker, 22, of Woodlawn, was pronounced dead at Mercy Hospital Fairfield after apparently suffering a seizure shortly after 4 a.m., according to West Chester police and the Butler County Coroner's Office. Police had gone to the Tri-County Inn on Princeton-Glendale Road (Ohio 747) to investigate a 2:19 a.m. attempted break-in. While at the motel, they arrested Mr. Baker and one of his friends and charged them with drug possession.

        But after Mr. Baker was handcuffed and placed alone in the back of a police cruiser, one of the four officers at the scene saw him slump over and then lie down, unresponsive, on the back seat.

        They removed him from the car, removed his handcuffs, began CPR and called for a life squad, Chief John Bruce said. “The officers had heroic efforts in trying to save his life,” Chief Bruce said. “They did everything they could do. You could tell in their voices when it was over with they were very disappointed they weren't successful.”

        Police said they suspect Mr. Baker went into a seizure after swallowing crack cocaine in an attempt to get rid of evidence. But they won't know for sure until the autopsy is complete.

        The West Chester Police Department and Butler County Coroner's Office are investigating the death, but autopsy results were not released Wednesday.

        Coroner Dr. Richard Burkhardt did not return calls for comment.

        When Mr. Baker died, he hadn't been a free man very long. He was released May 18 from the Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center in Dayton, a minimum-security state prison.

        Mr. Baker was serving two consecutive six-month sentences after pleading guilty to two drug charges from separate 2000 offenses, police said Wednesday.

        During a crackdown on drug sales at Hunter's Glen Apartments on July 28, 2000, agents with the regional Drug Abuse Reduction Task Force (DART), a multi-police agency unit, saw Mr. Baker conduct several drug sales, Tom McGrath, DART coordinator, said Wednesday.

        Mr. Baker was sent to state prison after that offense because at the time he was arrested in Springdale, he was out on bond on a previous drug charge, police said. Details of the first drug charge weren't available Wednesday.

        Mr. Baker's family said they had a lot of unanswered questions about his death Wednesday as they made funeral arrangements.

        Services and a burial will be Saturday.

        They acknowledged his drug history but said he had been trying to turn his life around for the sake of his 2-year-old son, Hazekiah.

        “He was a really good guy. He just had some issues to deal with,” said his sister, Celestial Baker, 20.

        Janice Morse contributed to this report.


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