Inmate death investigated in Pender County

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Submitted: Tue, 02/11/2014 - 5:50pm
Updated: Tue, 02/11/2014 - 6:03pm

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The death of an inmate in Pender County is under state investigation and an internal review.

The Pender County Sheriff’s Office says at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a detention officer making rounds found Zachary Bruns, 18, unresponsive. The sheriff’s office says jail staff immediately started medical care and called for EMS, which took Bruns to the hospital.

Bruns, of Currie, was released from custody Saturday while in the hospital. He died Monday.

Because Bruns was found unresponsive while in custody, Sheriff Carson Smith has asked the SBI and District Attorney Ben David to investigate what happened. The sheriff’s office says an internal investigation is also underway and that preliminary indications are that the detention officers on duty followed state rules and sheriff’s office guidelines.

Bruns was in jail on a probation violation. The NC Department of Corrections website shows Bruns was placed on probation last year after being convicted larceny and alcohol possession/consumption. Bruns also had several pending drug and alcohol-related cases in Pender and New Hanover counties.


  • paul Thomson says:

    I have to agree with what is said in this comment.I have heard the Jail is running on a very short staff. As for it being a do as I say and not what I do kinda place this is so true. I have heard from many people of my staff members who get away with violations that a normal person would be fired for. I feel for this family and pray the truth comes out. i can say That it seems that Sheriff needs to look at the jail administrator and her staff. There is so much that is swept onver the rug. The jail needs to be replaced. Small cells that hold more then the number aloud. Little windows for the officers to look in on the inmates. This is not safe for the inmates or the officers. The jail administrator neeeds to be a law enforcement officer and not just a jailor. There is alot of the things that the public needs to know. I hope this brings it out.

  • SeenItAll says:

    First off the inmate was of age to be housed as adult. He committed a probation violation and that’s why he was there. He was in a cell by himself due to a injury. He obviously passed the standard mental health screening when he was booked in. Checked on by staff 2 times a hour. That’s where the story needs a good investigator to do the background. For instance the kid had a questionable childhood from what friends say. He used drugs and possible performed questionable deeds to pay for what he needed. On to the Pender County Jail. The jail administrator is not required to be a certified deputy, only a certified jailer. There is probable no one else in the department that could run it any better, but the one that’s there should have been gone long ago. The administrator pieces together the work she does. It’s a do as I say and not as I do kinda place. What little staff is there is either backstabbing or so miserable to have to work in a dump with inmates whom are treated as if they are at summer camp with the jail Sergeant and Captain as their mother hens. The jail should be replaced for the safety of staff and inmates but it’s a long drugged out process cause if the high sheriff can’t get himself a new office out of the deal then who gives two chits about jail conditions. A building that the sheriff and his major only enter per year a number you can count on one hand. But I guarantee they both have new cars to drive each year while some of the deputies we depend on for for help when called on don’t .

  • My2cents2share says:
    After being convicted in new hanover and Pender county with larceny and drug related charges his business should be out there for everyone to see. Many young men and woman grow up and NEVER get into trouble with the law. Breaking the law is not ordinary stupid mistakes it is deliberately breaking the law. Unfortunately he will never get the chance to learn from his past and become a productive part of society. And with that being said I’m sorry for this young boy and his family that this happened to him.

  • Marlena says:

    Those who don’t know the whole story should stay out of it. Do you feel better now that you’ve given your expert opinion and upset the people who loved him? I knew Zach since he was about 19 months old. He lived with me for a bit in 2012, and I will always consider him to be my nephew. He was the purest, sweetest young man I ever knew. He also had more pain in his short life than most people ever experience. Despite everything he went through, he didn’t try to transfer his pain to others. He was always laughing and being silly, and I never saw him get angry. He adored his nephews and nieces, and he was kind to animals. There are no words to describe what a tragedy this is, and it makes me sick that WWAY is portraying him as some criminal, not the wonderful young man he was, and that they are allowing ignorant comments from people with nothing better to do than spread their unhappiness. Zach was one-of-a-kind, and I feel sorry for those who didn’t have the joy of knowing him.

  • Huck Boyd says:

    This was my cousin and I hope whoever is responsible for his death will be convicted

  • WB Soul says:

    If the young man was in their custody, it is their responsibility. Bottom line.

  • Amanda Smith says:

    I am not surprised…… Pender County Jail has had several violations from the State. It’s ashame that it will take the death of someone to bring attention to this matter.

    I have heard that the Correction Officers do not give attention to medical issues several have been quoted that “medical” is not their responsibility.

    I am sadden by his death and hope that the investigation proves the jail was responsible.

  • Blake Columby says:

    I was in Pender County Jail with Zach or Slim/Youngin which we called him when he was in my cell. This is tragic he was a great person and friend with an awesome attitude. It was late December 2013 around new years i think when we were in there together, it was his first time incarcerated he had said and he was also the youngest one in our cell out of around 15 inmates so it had to be hard for him but i remember him getting bailed out one night. Prayers for his family and friends who loved Zach. I honestly am still trying to process this or what happened to him it just does not make any sense. And that jail is horrible i mean yes I know its jail and not a motel but the correctional officers, nurses and all other staff were lousy and did not cate what happened to them honestly. One of the C.o.s heard i was foing to get “jumped” or ganged up on by these 3 guys and told them he would be back in ten minutes, so basically gave them permission to assault me and npt get in trouble. I also watched a man have a few seizures which the officers or nurse wouldn’t come in the cell until all us inmates were on there our bunks and i watched a c.o. stand over him while he’s seizing taking his sweet time putting on rubber gloves then litteraly drug him out of the cell and while he continued to seize THE OFFICER HAD HIS ARM PINNED BEHIND HIS BACK AND HE WAS FLAILING AGAINST THE STEEL BARS. That was only one of the seizures he had each time a c.o. would do something screwed up and ungodly. The seizure he had the next day after he got released from the hospital the nurse had to drive to PCJ I’m guessing from the prison not sure though but while we were waiting for her one inmate rolled him on his side so he didn’t bite or swallow his tongue. He was trying to keep him on his side and the x.o. working then said back away from him unless you want a charge. No lie. i mean it might be “protocall” but is protocall absolutely necessary when someone’s life may be in danger? Then when the nurse got there her a male and female c.o. entered the cell all 3 of them had a smile on there face at one point the male almost the whole time and they were also joking around with us inmayes while tending to this poor man. Pender county needs to do something about there staff or just that jail it is not run like any other jail there was dust covering every single vent. dead flys and hair in the food. Anyone reading this just know all i have said is honest i have nothing to lie about. This is just horrible that something happened to this poor kid and no one but his family or friends knows what happened to him I’m guessing because i haven’t gotten a hint yet. Other than its not drug related. I will keep you in my prayers Burns family.

    Blake C

  • Becky Everett says:

    Zachary was found to have no drugs in his system. And as to his DUI he was pulled over and was found to have nothing in his system. A friend of his dumped their drink on my brothers shirt. The officer realized my brother did not consume and let him drive away from site. The officer made sure to give him the ticket though.

  • TwoCentsWorth says:

    The article states the young man was found unresponsive on Thursday, taken to the hospital, and “released from custody Saturday while in the hospital. He died Monday.” There is no indication within the text to indicate when he died on Monday that he was in custody. Certainly, if he was in custody at the time of death, the Pender County Sheriff’s department must assume some degree of responsibility. I make no such assumption based only on the information presented in the article.

    However, I see no purpose in including information pertaining to previous arrests or pending charges. He was arrested for probation violations, period. With WWAY’s inclusion of such information comes the inference or presumption that his death was related to drug or alcohol use. This conclusion should be reached only after a definite cause of death is determined.

    By all means, this death should be investigated. 18 year old men do not die on Monday simply because they were incarcerated on the preceding Thursday. Absolutely no assumptions or accusations should be made until the investigation and autopsy have been completed.

  • Guest2020 says:

    The purpose of stating the convictions was to inform the readers as to the reason he was on probation. The information in no way indicates that his death was drug or alcohol related since he was incarcerated and, in theory, has no access to either drugs or alcohol.

  • SeenItAll says:

    I feel for sure the inmate checks were made with what little staff they have. But those old windows should have been taken out years ago. The jail administrator knows it wether the dumb founded
    sheriff does or not…….

  • Daniel Crouch says:

    The person running the jail is not certified law enforcement nor has the training and or experience to be a law enforcement officer.
    She carries no gun. Working the jail in Pender County is no easy job but it is a job and should be done with professionalism and without personal judgment no matter who is incarcerated. Half hour jail cell checks are mandatory by jail personnel. For those inmates who are suicidal or a danger to themselves or others are housed alone requiring fifteen minute check by jail personnel. Let the SBI do their job and let the voters of Pender County decide is Carson Smith should continue to be Sheriff.

  • stereo Guy says:

    My sincere condolences. May your brother, your parents son, rest in peace. Peace be with you.

  • Sandra Snow says:

    Zach was one of the most up beat young men I have ever met. The article seems to reflect him in such a negative light. He may have been scared and depressed in that kind of setting. Just how often are inmates checked on any way ,?

  • Tracey Bruns says:

    Let me start by saying that I am Zachary’s sister and was at his bedside when he passed, so you need not question if this is speculation or not. While I will not go into personal details regarding the incident itself, I would love to clear up any confusion here.

    First, Zachary was a WONDERFUL person… funny, energetic, and kind to everyone. The article makes him sound like some “troubled punk thug” when this was the furthest from the truth. Yes, he had made a few goofy mistakes out of poor youthful judgment, but haven’t we all? I can, however, assure you that his death was in NO way related to drug and/or alcohol use whatsoever.

    My primary reason for even responding to this article is in regards to the custody confusion, as this infuriates me!! When the article says he was “released from custody Saturday while in the hospital”… Let me interpret this for you! After the incident occurred IN THEIR CUSTODY, they accompanied Zack to the hospital. An officer sat outside his door the entire time (to guard this “heinous criminal”, mind you) until he was informed that there was no hope in saving Zack’s life. Now that his “services” were no longer needed, he left. THIS is what they are referring to as “Released from custody”!!

    This tragic loss to our family was something that could have been prevented.

  • Alisha D Hobbs says:

    I hope so too Huck! Sorry for ure loss and I <3 you

  • crystal walsh says:

    I am so sorry for the family of this young man. It is no secret to the local pender county residents that we have the worst facility in all four other surrounding counties. I respect Sheriff Smith, and I hope that along with the other investigative teams finally figure out that the pender county jail and many of their lazy, dispondant employees will finally be brought to the surface. This is not the first death there either. The conditions are awful. Inmates are not treated the same as other counties. They possibly might go out once a week. As where other facilties take inmates out everyday. I have heard stories of requests denied for medical attention. Regardless, people withheld have commited crimes, but are still human beings. And in this case, a child, in my opinion, being a mother a a son close in age who also spent time in pender co at age 16.

  • Ps says:

    The sheriffs dept is not telling the full story or truth I believe he was dead on thur they kept him alive by machines it’s a shame why was this story not reported earlier when it happened I sent email to all the news people other wise this would have been swept under rug with a lot of other things that goes on their that we never know about

  • crystal walsh says:

    to the family, I send my sincere regards, thoughts and prayers. I was moved by a post made by his sister. In many ways, sounds like a 17 yr,son of mine. Teenagers can act on impulse and these days it is not the same. Their used to be a concensus which what teenagers did, and then grew up to be successful adults.I do not want to say to much until more details to this case is released. I also believe sheriff Carson Smith, who I think is a wonderful sheriff, has the capability to remedy to what is referred to as one of the worst jailhouses in the tri-countys. there has been complaints for many years , from conditions being poor, disresponant employees, and not known to keep on their scheduling. inmates only are allowed outside once a week. While other facilities allow theirs everyday.My concern for pender co jail is their employees. How does something like this happen with proper supervision, and I have seen staff that show contempt for their incarcerated. This is not the first death in the jail, but I truly hope it’s the last. My son sat in that same jail at age 16, so I had to respond, hits close to home. Again, to the family I am so sorry!

  • Katie says:

    How very sad I knew him as a kid.
    I really hope they find out what happened
    to him.Prayers to the family.

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