The cause of death for a Sierra Conservation Center inmate who died on his first day as an inmate firefighter last April during a training hike was identified by the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office as cardiac arrest due to heart disease and coronary artery disease.
Anthony Colacino, then 33, had been incarcerated at the Sierra Conservation Center prison in Jamestown since June 2017 and participated in a training hike with a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation fire captain and four other inmate firefighters less than a mile outside the secure perimeter of the prison on the morning of his death.
In April, CDCR Public Information Officer Krissi Khokhobashvili said the the training hike began at about 7 a.m. and Colacino collapsed at about 7:50 a.m. near the end of the hike. An on-duty fire captain contacted emergency resources while inmate firefighters attempted to resuscitate Colacino in a transport vehicle to a firehouse located a quarter mile from the prison.
Colacino was pronounced dead at 8:41 a.m. that morning after additional emergency responders arrived.
The official cause of death was identified as fatal cardiac arrhythmia due to cardiomyopathy with contributing factors of intramural coronary artery disease, Sgt. Andrea Benson said.
Fatal cardiac arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. Cardiomyopathy is an acquired or hereditary disease of the heart muscle, and coronary artery disease is damage or disease to the heart’s blood vessels, usually caused by the buildup of plaque.
The coroner identified on the county death certificate is Jeff Wilson from the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office. Benson said a separate pathologist, not the coroner, examined the body and tested it during the autopsy.
Anthony Colacino’s older brother, Paul Colacino, of Corona, said he was not familiar with Anthony having any diagnosed health problems, but noted that there were heart issues in their family. Their father died of a heart attack, Paul Colacino said.
“What it sounds like to me is that the first hike he pushed himself real hard. He would go the extra mile to make a great impression,” Paul Colacino said. “We heard he sat down laughing with group of guys and one minute they're joking and laughing and the next he's unresponsive on the ground and can't be woken up.”
Colacino was the only new inmate firefighter on the team participating in the hike, Khokhobashvili said in April.
Paul Colacino said that the inmates were involved in a training hike, and then a follow up hike. Anthony Colacino fell down during the second hike but denied assistance, but later passed out at the end of the hike.
All inmate firefighters, including Colacino, must receive a medical clearance by internal CDCR medical staff for “vigorous duty.”
Inmate firefighters are also required to have no pre-existing medical conditions, a clearance test involves a blood test, a doctor’s screening, and for inmates to self-identify any potential issues.
All inmate firefighters must also be on a minimum-security level, have not committed a sexual offense or arson for their incarceration, and demonstrated non-violent behavior while incarcerated.
Paul Colacino said his little brother was “fired up” about the opportunity to join the inmate firefighters.
“It was when an opportunity bubbled up where he could reduce his time and serve his community,” Paul Colacino said.
Anthony had a five-year-old son that he “loved more than anything,” Paul Colacino added.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and the investigative services unit of CDCR conducted an internal investigation by interviewing inmates and learning about Colacino’s activity before his death, Khokhobashvili said in April.
The California Office of the Inspector General, the oversight agency for CDCR, was also notified of the death.
Paul Colacino said an Occupational Health and Safety Administration investigation into the death cleared SCC of culpability.
Colacino was transferred to the custody of CDCR on Feb. 26, 2017, from Riverside County to serve four years and four months on two counts of evading a peace officer while driving recklessly, cruelty to animals, and discharging a firearm with gross negligence, a CDCR press release stated.
Colacino was first housed at Wasco State Prison in Kern County before being transferred to SCC. Colacino had been expected to make parole in July 2019.
Sierra Conservation Center houses about 4,200 inmates, and is one of two state prisons responsible for training inmates in the Conservation Camp program, the CDCR press release stated.
Approximately 3,500 inmates are housed in the camps as inmate firefighters.