(ANDERSON) - State police are investigating the death of a 17-year-old who apparently strangled himself with a seat belt in the back of a police car, investigators said.
Police were called to a burglary early Wednesday morning at the Madison County Shrine Club, where two juveniles and one adult were taken into custody, police said.
Gary Dalzel is the Shrine Club president. He got to the scene after getting a call about a possible break-in. He said the alleged burglars were after the club's stash of liquor.
"They had two trash barrels loaded with alcohol," Dalzel told RTV6's Drew Smith. "They were taking it, and I think when they saw the police, they dropped it and went to the roof."
Dalzell said when he got to the scene about 12:45 a.m., police had the building surrounded, the alleged burglars were up on the roof, police had the bull horns out and they were trying to talk them down.
"They finally got them down, put them in the cars and took the police dog K-9 unit to the building and checked to see if there was anybody else there," Dalzel said.
Police said the three offenders were handcuffed behind their backs and put in the back seats of three different patrol cars while police returned to the building to investigate.
"How long a period of time can someone remain in the patrol car by himself without an officer there? Well there are several factors involved in that, and it's part of the investigation that I cannot release right now," Anderson Police Chief Larry Crenshaw said.
Police said the 17-year-old managed to move his handcuffed hands from behind his back to the front of his body.
Investigators said it appears he then used the seat belt to strangle himself.
When the teen was discovered, police performed CPR and called for an ambulance, police reported.
Police said the teen was transported to St. John's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
"Our heart goes out to the family of the child that passed away while in police custody. It is a tragic situation when a death occurs with a person at such a young age," Anderson Mayor Kevin S. Smith said in a news release.
Crenshaw said he could not comment on the timeline of the events since the investigation is continuing.
He did say he's never seen a case like this before.
"It's very tragic for the family members of the young boy," Crenshaw said. "You respond to the crime, you try to do the police functions as you can and in a situation like this, it's tragic for the police department, for the officers involved and for the community."
Have a question or comment about a news story? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org