SLO County coroner’s findings questioned again

August 21, 2017

Gary Walter

San Luis Obispo County’s embattled medical examiner has again come under scrutiny for a questionable cause of death ruling, this time pertaining to a young woman he says died of an LSD overdose.

Over the last couple years, CalCoastNews reported Dr. Gary Alan Walter, SLO County’s contract medical examiner, drove under the influence and crashed his car on the way to perform an autopsy and ruled that the jail death of Andrew Holland was natural, even though deputies strapped him in a restraint chair for 36 hours before he died.

The state has been seeking to revoke Walter’s medical license because of the DUI incident, and the medical examiner is also named in a wrongful death lawsuit over a man who died in Lemoore police custody.

The Tribune is now reporting that a pair of experts in the fields of pharmacology and psychiatry are disputing Walter’s findings in the case of the alleged LSD overdose.

Early in the morning on May 28, Baylee Ybarra Gatlin was transported from a music festival at Lake San Antonio to Twin Cities Community Hospital, where she died shortly later. Walter performed an autopsy and ruled that Gatlin’s cause of death was LSD toxicity.

Dr. David E. Nichols, a pharmacologist and medical chemist, and Dr. Charles Grob, a professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and the Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, both said they are not aware of any cases of LSD medically causing deaths, though individuals under the influence of the drug have died in accidents or suicides.

The pair of medical experts said substances other than LSD are more likely to have caused Gatlin’s death, and Walter’s team failed to identify them.

A toxicology report conducted following Gatlin’s death revealed a low level of LSD and no other illegal drugs in her system. Two blood samples showed .22 nanograms per milliliter and .47 nanograms per milliliter of LSD in Gatlin’s system.

Nichols and Grob said those amounts do not constitute an overdose nor a toxic amount of LSD.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office replied by saying Gatlin had a much higher level of LSD in her blood during the 12 hours before her death. Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said his agency stands by their expert, Walter, and his conclusion.

Previously, the sheriff’s office said it is planning on replacing Walter with a new medical examiner. Walter’s contract with SLO County expired at the end of June, and he has since remained on the job on a month-to-month basis.







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9 Comments

  1. shelworth says:

    Well, he was right about Andrew Holland, it is natural to die when strapped into a restraint chair for 36 hours straight…

    (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
  2. jimmy_me says:

    Say nothing about his performance, then give him a giant severance package. It’s the SLO country government approach to handling incompetence and corruption.

    (17) 19 Total Votes - 18 up - 1 down
  3. Pelican1 says:

    What’s the obvious common thread that once again raises suspicion manifested in controversy? COUNTY EMPLOYEE (contracted, but for all intents and purposes..).a COUNTY EMPLOYEE!

    (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
  4. smile4thecamera says:

    The county needs a new medical examiner.

    (23) 23 Total Votes - 23 up - 0 down
    • DocT says:

      Why? This one seems to have no problem coming to conclusions that help the county. How in the world are you going to find a coroner who can weigh non-existent gall bladders and perform autopsies with .19 BAC?

      Imagine the trouble that would have come about with an honest Medical Examiner! Why, then perhaps blame could have been placed on the people who worked at the jail for Andrew Holland’s death!

      No…it’s best to keep an alcoholic liar on staff. He’s reliable when it comes to getting the information on paper that best helps the county.

      (16) 22 Total Votes - 19 up - 3 down
  5. fhill123 says:

    Sounds like Walter is ready to become the next Surgeon General.

    (19) 25 Total Votes - 22 up - 3 down
  6. DocT says:

    I don’t see why this medical examiner needs to be replaced.

    He’s obviously the best driver with a medical degree in the county.

    Fact: Dr. Walters drove with .19 blood alcohol content on the way to an autopsy and only did minor damage to the truck he was driving. That takes great skill and control. Most of us couldn’t not do this.

    Fact: Dr. Walters once testified during a trial that he weighed and measured the gall bladder of a decedent whom he was performing an autopsy on. The defense attorney then cross examined the good coroner and proved that the decedent already had her gall bladder removed years prior to the autopsy. Not every coroner can accurately weigh and measure the gall bladder of a person who doesn’t have one…..

    Fact: Andrew Holland died of a blood clot that became an embolism. Most medical doctors and other coroners….even nurses and even highly educated and informed lay people know that sitting for hours without moving is a great recipe for creating blood clots in the legs….but Dr. Walters knew that the restraint chair didn’t cause the bloodclots that killed Mr. Holland after spending nearly two full days in the chair.

    Most coroners would probably have just gone with the flow and declared that the restraint chair led to the blood clots…..but Dr. Walter’s piercing insight and expertise allowed him to cast off the obvious causes and rule the death due to “natural” causes, thus possibly exonerating the jail staff from mistreatment.

    Fact: there are probably dozens of opinions rendered by Dr. Walters that are now being combed over by attorneys who are going to officially question the conclusions of Dr. Walters on his autopsies. This will no doubt lead to a very large amount of money being paid out to victims of sloppy autopsies, over turn convictions, etc.

    This means that the taxpayers of SLO county will be able to place their extra money in the form of higher taxes in the county in order to pay off all the lawsuits. We all need more taxes.

    Fact: the official mouth piece of the sheriff’s office, Tony Cipolla, “stands by” their expert’s opinion, despite other experts—albeit not as skilled at driving as Dr. Walters—-saying his findings on cause of death is “impossible.”

    Dr. Walters, in many ways, is the face of SLO County’s law enforcement and DA’s office. I think it’s fitting and right that he remains on the job, despite the misunderstandings connected to his DUI and falsified/sloppy statements made on autopsies in the past.

    Warning: some sarcasm was employed in the creation of this post. The absurdity of it all required it.

    (7) 9 Total Votes - 8 up - 1 down
  7. Rich in MB says:

    But who will do an Autopsy on the Death of Credibility of the County Sherriff Department?

    (7) 7 Total Votes - 7 up - 0 down

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