Santa Barbara County's Northern Branch Jail | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss File

This Monday afternoon, a correctional officer at Santa Barbara County’s Northern Branch Jail discovered a 57-year-old inmate there, David Lee Ligon, dead of an apparent drug overdose. Ligon had been booked into the jail on May 27 on a handful of drug-related charges and was being held on $30,000 bail. The statement issued by the Sheriff’s Office reads, “An initial investigation indicates this is a probable overdose-related death; however, the final cause and manner are pending.” 

Ligon’s death marks the second time in the last week that a jail inmate died in similar fashion. Late last Thursday night, a health-care worker and custody deputy doing routine welfare checks in the county’s Main Jail found an inmate — Santa Barbara resident Rio Favorite Ulvaeus, 45 — in the Inmate Reception Center dead from an apparent drug overdose. He had been arrested the day before on felony charges of vehicle theft, unlawful possession of ammunition, and possession of a controlled substance for sale. 

A press release issued by Lt. Jarrett Morris said Ulvaeus was “unresponsive, not breathing, and with a foamy purge coming from his mouth.” Three rounds of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan and CPR were administered, and he was jolted with automated external defibrillator to kick-start his heart, all to no avail. “The decedent did not recover and was pronounced dead,” Morris stated.

While the cause of death remains under investigation, “preliminary information indicates this death is likely the result of opioid overdose.”

If that’s the case, this marks the second fatal overdose in county custody this year. Last year, there were four in the county jail. Morris stated that it appears there had been 35 overdose deaths countywide thus far this year, but cautioned these statistics remain preliminary and that the number may be higher.

In response to the spike in fentanyl-related deaths across the country and countywide, Morris said the jail has implemented additional measures to reduce inmates’ access to drugs, including “employing highly trained narcotic detection canines and advanced body scanners and conducting random searches.” Additionally, all custody deputies are equipped with Narcan.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is famously far more potent than other opioids; it’ also far more deadly and addictive. Fentanyl is sold on its own but is also mixed in with a range of other illegal drugs used for recreational purposes. 


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