By Scott Dance
Spinal injuries such as those that led to Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody require “significant force” akin to the impact from a car accident and can fatally impair the body’s ability to regulate blood flow and breathing, according to medical experts.
Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said Monday that the 25-year-old Gray died of “a very tragic injury to his spinal cord,” the bundle of nerves that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Gray died Sunday, one week after his arrest in West Baltimore.
Details about Gray’s injury and what caused it remain unknown. Police did not release results of an autopsy conducted Monday.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said investigators were searching for any evidence of abuse by officers or other trauma that might have occurred during a 30-minute ride in a police van. Gray was angry and having difficulty walking when placed in the van and then unable to talk or breathe when he was removed, Rodriguez said.
Gray’s family has said he underwent surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center for three fractured neck vertebrae and a crushed voice box — injuries doctors said are more common among the elderly or victims of high-speed crashes.
Medical experts said it takes powerful blunt force, and often damage to the vertebrae that surround the spinal cord, to tear or sever it.