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Woman found dead in Merced jail cell
Cause of death undetermined
Leticia Willoughby, 38, was arrested Friday evening by the Merced Police Department and found dead inside her cell around 6 a.m. Saturday. - photo by Photo Contributed

A former Turlock resident died while in custody at the John Latorraca Correctional Center in Merced, while her daughter waited outside for her release.

Leticia Willoughby, 38, was found dead inside her cell around 6 a.m. Saturday, according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

A cause of death has not been released. Sheriff spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie said an autopsy had been conducted, but officials are awaiting toxicology results.

Willoughby was arrested Friday evening by the Merced Police Department. She was arrested on suspicion of felony possession of a controlled substance; possession of a controlled substance for sale; being a felon in possession of a firearm; misdemeanor false identification to law enforcement; and a gang enhancement.

Willoughby was placed alone in an administrative segregation cell at the correctional center.

According to the sheriff’s department, she began to complain of chills and was given a blanket and a sweat shirt.

Medical staff was brought in to evaluate Willoughby and initially she was uncooperative, but then decided to rest, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said.

Willoughby’s family said they had posted the money to cover her $61,000 bail shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday, but that there was a delay in getting her released.

“We kept calling and they kept telling us that she wasn’t ready,” said Willoughby’s sister-in-law Amanda Perez. “First they told us the computers were down so they couldn’t process her. Then a little later it was because she needed medical clearance.”

Willoughby’s daughter, 18-year-old Brianna Willoughby, said she was parked outside the facility waiting to take her mother home, when she saw an ambulance pull up. Brianna Willoughby said she left the facility around 9 a.m. with no answers about why her mother hadn’t been released yet. She said she was headed home when she was pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy and told to return to the correctional center.

“I got back there and they told me she had died,” Brianna Willoughby said.

Willoughby, a mother of seven children ranging in age from 22 years to 12 years, had recently moved to Merced from Turlock and was trying to “straighten her life up” according to her family.

The family did not believe she was using drugs and had not made any complaints about feeling ill.

“She was in their custody when she died,” Perez said. “If they had released her earlier to us, maybe we could have gotten her help. I don’t feel like they followed their procedures.”