Questions surround Penitentiary vehicle crash, inmate death in Sioux Falls

“It’s just unfortunate that a 78-year-old man in a wheelchair lost his life because of the negligence of a prison,” said Knope.
Published: Dec. 11, 2022 at 9:27 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -The crash of a prison transport van on December 6th is certainly concerning on its own. However, when correctional officers tell our I-Team that the crash and subsequent death of the passenger could have been prevented, it developed into another call for change at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

DeAnna Knope is reflecting on the memories with her adopted dad.

“He just loved life itself,” said Knope.

Curtis Lovette, an inmate at the Penitentiary, was involved in a crash on December 6th while being transported to dialysis at a Sioux Falls hospital.

The South Dakota Department of Corrections confirmed the crash the day after on December 7th. “There was a DOC vehicle involved in an accident at the Avera medical facility involving an offender. The site was cleared by local law enforcement, and no citations were issued. DOC management also responded to the accident and conducted an assessment of the accident. The offender was hospitalized and remains in the hospital,” said spokesperson Michael Winder. “The SDDOC has previously used a contract company for wheelchair transports, however, we also have used our own DOC owned wheelchair to transport as well.”

The Sioux Falls police log provided details.

“Transport van hit to the overhang somewhere near the valet area,” said Lt. Robert Forster. “The back passenger was reported to be unconscious.”

When police arrived, the driver and the passenger were already in the hospital receiving medical treatment, according to Forster.

Knope said Lovette’s injuries included a broken neck. She gave permission to remove him from life support, and he died.

She understands that inmates are there for a reason but believes everyone should be treated humanely.

“I’m just flabbergasted on what I’m still finding out from people who witnessed it,” said Knope. “He was not strapped into that van. Somebody has got to be accountable for the actions that happened that day.”

Correctional officers told our I-Team in November that they were concerned about transport safety as the driver position had been eliminated. Previously, transport included a driver, Correctional Officer, and an inmate. Now only one officer is responsible for monitoring security and driving.

We contacted the DOC in November about the change. The response was that positions were “not being eliminated but disseminated,” according to Winder.

Many correctional officers told us of one particular transit driver who had worked at the DOC for over 30 years but was no longer employed there.

Another correctional officer contacted our I-Team, saying:

“I worked at the Penitentiary for over five years and occasionally transported inmates in wheelchairs. Yet, I’ve never received any training.” The officer is remaining anonymous over concerns of retaliation.

Knope and some who work at the Penitentiary question: If the two-person transfer and additional training had been in place, would Lovette be alive today?

“It’s just unfortunate that a 78-year-old man in a wheelchair lost his life because of the negligence of a prison,” said Knope. “His life meant nothing to the prison, but it meant everything to me. He did not deserve to die that way,” said Knope.