The family of an inmate who was strangled at the Clark County Detention Center earlier this month questions how his loved one could be killed during law enforcement.
Las Vegas police said Blancy Yonko, 59, was found unresponsive in his cell on Dec. 13 by a judicial officer in the county jail. He was taken to the university hospital, where he died two days after the attack. An autopsy revealed that he had died of ligature strangulation and that his death was considered homicide.
Yonko’s cellmate Steven Revell, 39, is charged with murder.
“His life has been taken from him,” said Yonko’s sister Sheila Yonko, 53, from Phoenix, during a telephone interview. “It is not fair. This is my oldest brother. “
Police said an investigation revealed that the two cellmates “had a confrontation in their cell” and that Revell strangled Yonko. Revell had just been jailed for attempted murder in a stab attack on a visitor to the Fremont Street Experience on December 5th. Police said the attack was “totally unprovoked” and that Revell does not know the person he accused of stabbing in the back.
Yonko was held at the detention center for assault with a lethal weapon after authorities said he threatened a man with a knife in a Las Vegas fast food restaurant in February. According to Las Vegas Magistrate Court records, Yonko had a long prison term in Las Vegas, but his other arrests mostly involved trampling, public roaming, clogging a sidewalk and theft.
Sheila Yonko said her brother has a good heart. He was born in Denver and was the oldest of 13 children. He spent much of his early life looking after his 12 brothers and sisters.
“I was around 10 or 11 years old and he combed our hair, prepared my brothers and sisters for school, made us something to eat and took us to the bus,” said Sheila Yonko. “He would make sure we go to school and when we come back he will already have a pot of food ready for us. He was barely 13, maybe 14 years old. “
Blancy Yonko married at a young age and had three children. For years everything seemed fine with Blancy, his sister said, but when he and his ex-wife split up, his life changed. Sheila Yonko said her brother was desperate about his family separation. Eventually, she said, he moved away from his previous life and struggled with alcoholism while living on the streets of Las Vegas.
“He was so broken, so lost,” said Sheila Yonko, adding, “It all went downhill for him. He loved her so much that he turned away. He walked away.”
Sheila Yonko said, “He wasn’t a bad guy. He just got lost in the world. “
Before he died, Sheila Yonko said she spoke to his brother and that he was committed to changing his life.
“He was on a Christian program and learned about God,” said Sheila Yonko. “He used to be a Christian, but this time God really touched him. He talked more about God and Jesus. “
Sheila Yonko said her brother’s death devastated her family. She and her siblings want to know why their brother was put in the same cell with Revell.
“You should take care of it,” she said. “The main thing is, no matter what, my brother doesn’t come back.”
Las Vegas Police said in an email to the Review Journal that the prison is conducting a grading system for inmates to ensure they are safe. Regarding Yonko’s case, police said, “As with any critical incident involving the LVMPD, our critical incident review team is conducting an investigation into this death along with the murder.”
Sheila Yonko said she wanted to know how the violence could happen to her brother.
“For his life to be taken just like that, he doesn’t deserve it after all he’s been through,” she said. “He deserves to live.”
Contact Glenn Puit by email at [email protected] Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.