Student left in cell 4 days recalls hallucinations

Associated Press Modified: May 2, 2012 at 10:31 pm •  Published: May 2, 2012
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The next day, Chong said his hallucinations started. Dr. Wally Ghurabi at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica said dehydration could have brought on the altered state of mind along with the methamphetamine. The methamphetamine also could have made that dehydration worse.

People can die from dehydration in as little as three to seven days, depending on body mass and the temperature of the environment. Ghurabi said Chong was wise to drink his own urine to stay hydrated.

Chong said he urinated on the cell's only furniture — a metal bench — to be able to drink the fluid. He stacked a blanket, his pants and shoes on top of the bench to try to climb up and trigger a fire sprinkler on the ceiling, but his repeated attempts failed.

After the days dragged on, Chong said he accepted the fact that he would die. He considered taking his own life rather than withering away by dehydration. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them and then tried to use a shard to scratch "Sorry Mom" into his arm. He stopped after the "S," too weak to continue.

He said he wanted to leave his mother some message and that was the shortest one he could think of to write.

Then the lights went out. Chong sat and scooted along the floor, bound in darkness for the final two days. He said his hallucinations deepened: The blanket transformed into a person, then two people. He could no longer urinate. He said he screamed for agents to have mercy on him and just give him a quick death.

"My breath was getting shorter and shorter," he said. "I felt paralyzed. It was really hard to stand. I started screaming something ridiculous like, 'Remedy! Revive me!' And then that's when the lights turned on and the agents opened the door with very confused looks on their faces. They said, 'Who are you? Where'd you come from?'"

Paramedics took Chong to a hospital, where doctors also treated him for cramps, and a perforated esophagus from swallowing a glass shard. Chong, who weighed 166 pounds before the bust, said he lost 15 pounds during the ordeal.

Chong spent five days at the hospital, including three in intensive care, before leaving Sunday. His roommates told him they had filed a missing persons report. He missed a midterm exam.

"The DEA's answer to this is: 'Oh, we forgot about him. I'm sorry,'" said his lawyer, Iredale.

Chong was not going to be charged with a crime and should have been released, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the DEA case and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

Chong said he has no criminal record.

The top DEA agent in San Diego, William R. Sherman, said in a news release that he was "deeply troubled" by what happened to Chong. "I extend my deepest apologies (to) the young man," he said.

Sherman, the special agent in-charge in San Diego, said the event is not indicative of the high standards to which he holds his employees. He said he has personally ordered an extensive review of his office's policies and procedures. The agency declined to say what those were.

Chong said no one has contacted him personally to apologize.

Doctors said Chong's wounds should heal, but he said he still breaks down in tears.

"I'm very glad they found me," he said.

Federal lawmakers are demanding a thorough investigation. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Eric Holder.

"Please provide me with the results and the actions the department will take to make sure those responsible are held accountable and that no one in DEA custody will ever again be forced to endure such treatment," the letter stated.

___

Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell and Kevin Freking in Washington, Elliot Spagat in San Diego, and Amy Taxin in Orange County, Calif., contributed to this report.

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