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A man accused of molesting teenage immigrant boys and forcing them into the drug trade died at the Salt Lake County jail Monday evening.
Authorities believe Victor Manuel Rax, 42, committed suicide Monday evening. An officer doing routine checks found Rax unresponsive, having hanged himself, about 8:25 p.m., said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. Medical personnel tried to revive him, but he died in the jail, Winder said.
The same officer who found Rax asphyxiated was the same person who last saw the man, at 7:40 p.m., prior to his suicide attempt. Each inmate in the segregated area is normally seen every 45 minutes like that, a time gap that Winder asserted as "very rapid" for the size of the population.
The death does not appear to be suspicious, authorities said. Rax has two relatives in the jail, and counseling is being made available to them, Winder said.
The sheriff described Rax's behavior in the jail as "bizarre," but declined to elaborate in deference to his family. Rax's serious charges affected him and he had spent time in the jail's mental health unit, Winder said, but he had more recently moved to the administrative segregation area where people are kept in one-man cells and away from the general population after he showed signs of improvement.
Winder added that the inmates are their counselors' clients and their deaths are devastating for them.
Rax had been charged in 3rd District Court with 63 felonies for crimes ranging from sodomy on a child to human trafficking to drugs. Investigators believe Rax raped undocumented immigrant children as young as 9, then threatened their families in order to force them to sell drugs and submit to abuse.
Police from multiple agencies arrested Rax in February and prosecutors later charged him with 34 felonies. The number of charges nearly doubled in March after police identified 16 victims, according to the Utah Attorney General's office. All but one of those victims were children when Rax allegedly abused them, the AG's office added.
A trial had not been set in Rax's court case, though he had a scheduling conference set for May 16.
Among other things, one witness told police Rax had "black magic" and "spoke in dialect to his god Santa Muerte." He also allegedly drugged some boys to unconsciousness as he abused them.
Rax also used the boys as drug dealers in Utah high schools, police say.
Rax was long a target of police investigations, but prosecutors struggled to mount a case against him because victims were too afraid to testify. In one instance, prosecutors even threatened to deport the victim if he wouldn't take the stand against Rax. The victim, however, wouldn't budge, instead challenging authorities to "deport me to hell."
The current case against Rax began when three victims finally came forward: a 15-year-old who was 14 when the abuse began, an 18-year-old who was 16 when the abuse started, and a 17-year-old, according to jail documents.
"Although any loss of human life is upsetting and Mr. Rax was presumed innocent, we are relieved that the 16 alleged victims, 15 of whom are children, will not have to face the trauma of testifying in criminal court proceedings," Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement. "Moreover, while his guilt or innocence will now never be proven through the justice system, if he was guilty as we alleged, then we are comforted that many children and their families will live in fear no more."
Reyes' office is currently assessing whether Rax's death will have any impact on his two jailed relatives' cases, the statement adds.