A memorial to honor Raymond James Pistella, the Grass Valley resident who committed suicide at the county jail Jan. 22, has been organized in Coloma this Sunday.
Pistella had just recently moved to Grass Valley to live with his girlfriend; he had been a well known fixture in Coloma for more than a decade, said friends there.
Pistella, 51, had been arrested the week prior to his suicide, after reportedly cutting himself in a possible suicide attempt.
The morning of Jan. 22, he went to the second tier of a jail pod, which overlooked a day area, and climbed over the metal railing. He then dove head-first to the ground floor, hitting a table and incurring major head injuries. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s really, really sad,” said longtime friend Mary Jones Cary. “Ray had his demons, but he had a really good heart.”
According to Cary, Pistella simply showed up in Coloma in about 1992, driving a Mercedes.
“He obviously had had a mental breakdown,” Cary said.
Cary said Pistella had a metal plate in his head, which she believed was due to a service injury; he received a stipend from the military, she said. Pistella’s father, Raymond Pistella, said his son joined the military when he was 17 and served four years. He was unaware of any head injury, he said.
Raymond Pistella said he had lost contact with his son years ago, probably in 1988. At one time, his son worked for him at his plumbing company but lost his driver’s license due to too many tickets, he said.
“I had to fire him, and he disappeared,” Raymond Pistella said. “I didn’t see him again … I thought about him all the time — but I didn’t know how to reach him.”
While Pistella was in Coloma, Cary often gave him work. Pistella would frequently volunteer for fire department fundraisers in return for something to eat, she said.
“He would do whatever we needed him to do,” Cary said.
“He basically slept under a bridge,” she said. “When it got cold, he would do some minor thing, like dumpster-dive, to get put in jail.”
Pistella had moved to Grass Valley recently to be with his girlfriend and had called Cary’s daughter, Margaret Jones, shortly before his arrest.
“He was upset the last time I talked to him,” Jones said. “He was very, very upset. He was trying to deal with an issue in his relationship.”
Pistella was arrested the night of Jan. 17 by Grass Valley Police officers after they responded to a report that a man was cutting himself. A mental health evaluation was requested before he was booked at the jail on suspicion of vandalism and spousal abuse. Officers also collected a number of items that could be construed as dangerous at the request of Pistella’s girlfriend, including a knife, a pellet gun and several AirSoft pistols.
He was evaluated at the hospital, and he was reportedly medically cleared there. The jail had no record of a mental health evaluation having been performed on Pistella, however. During the more than four days he was incarcerated, Pistella reportedly did not exhibit any behavior that would have been of concern, the sheriff’s office reported.
Pistella was in Nevada County Superior Court the morning of Jan. 22 and had been back at the jail less than an hour before he committed suicide. He reportedly was upset because he didn’t receive a release on his own recognizance.
“I find it hard to believe no one noticed he was suicidal,” Jones said, adding that the perception of a domestic violence charge could have pushed him over the edge. “He would not have been able to deal with people thinking he would beat a woman,” she said.
According to Pistella’s father, his girlfriend called 911 that night because he had been drinking and was breaking items in the home they shared in downtown Grass Valley. DeAnna Corbin said she called because he was stabbing himself in the head, and she did not think she could restrain him from hurting himself.
“He was very tall and very strong,” Cary said, describing an incident where Pistella bent a 6-foot crowbar.
“But he was a gentle giant,” she said.
“He was on the road to getting better. He was cleaning himself up,” Jones said, adding that his death weighed heavily on her.
“I find myself wishing with such an ache in my heart that had he only known just how many people held him in such high regard, it might have made a huge difference in the choice he made that day,” she said. “The amount of love and admiration that man had from the people he came across in this little community astounds me. I’m going to miss him for a long time to come.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
“It’s really, really sad. Ray had his demons, but he had a really good heart.”
Mary Jones Cary
longtime friend of Raymond James Pistella