Rowan County murder suspect died in jail cell, investigation underway

Rowan County murder suspect died in jail cell, investigation underway
James Christopher Rife was charged with murder in February. (Source: (Rowan Detention Center))

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - A 36-year-old man charged with murder in Rowan County has died in his jail cell at the Rowan County Detention Center.

According to Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten, on Wednesday at about 8:15 am, inmate James Christopher Rife passed away of unknown causes.

Inmate Rife had been jailed for a total of 266 days after being charged with murder and attempted robbery with a weapon on February 1, 2019. The alleged victim was Lakyn Jade Bailey.

A press release states that Rife was provided with his breakfast tray shortly before 8 am while he was in his single cell. He talked briefly with the Detention Officer that handed him his tray of food, and then talked to the officer a short time later when the officer checked to see if he was finished with his tray.

A short time later, RCSO Detention Officers were notified by other inmates that inmate Rife appeared to be slumped over in a seated position in his cell, and that could not get a response from him. Rowan County 911 was notified, and Detention Staff, including the on duty nurse, responded to the cell, and immediately began performing CPR.

The Salisbury Fire Department and Rowan EMS were dispatched to respond to the Detention Center. It was determined that Rife had passed away after life saving efforts were unsuccessful.

There were no signs of any trauma to Inmate Rife, according to the sheriff, and no signs of any foul play were found in his cell or on any video footage that was available.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office made contact with Inmate Rife’s family to notify them of his death. The NC SBI was contacted along with the NC Medical Examiner’s Office. The Medical Examiner responded and released the body to be taken for an autopsy.

The SBI will continue with the investigation and any further release of information would be from their office.

Rife was one of two men charged in the death of Bailey. Two days before Rife’s arrest, detectives arrested Joshua Wade Kennedy, 35, a registered sex offender in West Virginia who has been living in Iredell Co. and Rowan Co. recently. Kennedy was placed under arrest by detectives and also charged with murder and attempted robbery.

The investigation began on January 27 when a woman was found shot to death in a car at a local convenience store. Salisbury Police were called to the Country Cupboard, 2010 Statesville Blvd, to a reported shooting victim in a vehicle.

Lakyn Jade Bailey, 25, was discovered dead in a vehicle that was driven by a friend. During the initial investigation, Salisbury Police determined the incident probably occurred outside the Salisbury city limits, and contacted the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

According to investigators, the incident appears to have occurred in the Woodleaf Road area, with the victim receiving a single gunshot wound before being driven to the store. At the time, investigators said they believe Bailey, who is from Davidson, NC, was staying in a motel in Statesville. They say she drove to Rowan County on Sunday.

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