, Salem, MA

August 29, 2013

Salem man dies after found 'unresponsive' in jail cell


---- — SALEM — A prominent Salem businessman who had been arrested in a domestic incident was pronounced dead at Salem Hospital early Tuesday after being found unresponsive in his cell at Salem Police Headquarters.

Hugh Kerr, 61, of 4 Chestnut St., was taken to the hospital by ambulance around 4 a.m. Tuesday after an officer doing rounds at the Margin Street station noticed Kerr lying awkwardly in the bed in his jail cell, according to Capt. Rodney Comeau.

“The (officer) noticed he was unresponsive,” Comeau said.

The Fire Department responded, along with Atlantic Ambulance, which transported Kerr to the hospital. A detective called the police station from the hospital around 5:30 a.m. to report that Kerr had been pronounced dead, according to Comeau.

Kerr had been arrested Monday at 12:50 p.m. at his home on a charge of domestic assault and battery. He was being held overnight without bail, which is standard procedure in domestic incidents, police said, pending an arraignment in court on Tuesday.

Police make rounds in the cell block every 30 minutes and also monitor prisoners on cameras. Nothing out of the ordinary was noticed, Comeau said.

The death is being investigated by Salem Police and by State Police detectives assigned to the office of Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

An autopsy is being done by the state medical examiner, according to Carrie Kimball Monahan, a spokeswoman for Blodgett.

In 2007, Kerr was nominated for Businessman of the Year by the Salem Chamber of Commerce.

He had helped open A Passage to India, a popular Indian restaurant, in 2003. In an interview, Kerr, a native of Scotland, said he developed a love for Indian food after his family moved to England.

He said he befriended a family that ran an Indian restaurant in Cambridge and encouraged them to open one in Salem. He has not been involved in the Salem restaurant for several years, according to a restaurant spokesman.

Kerr launched several business ventures over the years, including Witch City Rickshaw, a tourist transportation company, but his main business was Kerr Leather, which manufactured leather garments for motorcycle riders and items for the Elvis Presley Graceland catalog.

The business suffered a serious setback last year when a fire gutted a large section of its 63 Jefferson Ave. building. After a long delay, renovations began a few weeks ago.

Tom Dalton can be reached at