Coroner said woman at music fest died from LSD overdose. Now, he says she didn’t

Baylee Gatlin, 20, of Ventura fell ill at the Lightning in a Bottle music festival at Lake San Antonio in May and died at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton later that night.
Baylee Gatlin, 20, of Ventura fell ill at the Lightning in a Bottle music festival at Lake San Antonio in May and died at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton later that night.

It wasn’t LSD that killed a Ventura woman who died while attending a music festival last May, according to an amended cause of death released Wednesday by the San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office.

Baylee Ybarra Gatlin, 20, died of multi-organ failure, hyperthermia (overheating) and dehydration, with other significant contributors listed as coagulopathy (a bleeding disorder) and “possible LSD intoxication” after attending the Lightning in a Bottle music festival at Lake San Antonio, according to “a clarification” that an office spokesman said was submitted by former county medical examiner Dr. Gary Walter.

The new report was delivered to SLO County Coroner-Detective Rory Linn on Sept. 12, nearly a month after The Tribune published an article calling into question Walter’s initial finding that Gatlin’s cause of death was acute lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) toxicity.

That finding was roundly disputed by leading medical experts on the subject contacted by The Tribune after Gatlin’s death in May at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.

“It’s just not logical or reasonable to conclude that she is the first of 30 million people who have safely taken LSD to have died (from that small amount),” Dr. David E. Nichols, a pharmacologist and medicinal chemist considered a global expert on hallucinogens, told The Tribune in August. “It’s not possible. There is something else. They did not analyze what they should have analyzed.”

Nichols and another expert, Dr. Charles Grob of the UCLA School of Medicine, said that, based on the amount of LSD measured by a lab in two blood samples, Gatlin couldn’t have taken more than two doses.

Since LSD’s introduction in 1938, there do not appear to be any known instances where the drug was listed as the physiological cause of death. Recreational dose levels are “way below any kind of dose that would kill you,” Nichols said.

Nichols said it was more likely that Gatlin took a drug like MDMA, commonly known as “ecstasy” or “molly,” or a designer NBOMe-type drug sold on paper tabs designed to resemble LSD that can produce symptoms like hyperthermia — now listed as one cause of death for Gatlin. The Sheriff’s Office said Gatlin’s blood tests came back negative for MDMA and NBOMe-type drugs.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla told The Tribune at the time that “the Sheriff’s Office stands by our expert and his conclusion.”

Reached for comment Wednesday, Cipolla wrote in an email that, “As Dr. Walter was a contracted employee of the Sheriff’s Office and is currently no longer employed by this agency, all inquiries regarding this case should be directed to Dr. Walter at Microcorre Diagnostic Lab in Tulare, California.”

The county recently replaced the embattled Walter, who once was arrested in San Luis Obispo for driving drunk on the way to an autopsy and whose medical license is under review for suspension by the state, with full-time medical examiner Dr. Joye Carter.

“This supplemental report is being generated due to amended causes of death being submitted by (Walter),” Linn wrote. “... Additionally, the timeline of events leading up to the passing of (Gatlin) required further detail.”

Authorities believe Gatlin arrived at the Lightning in a Bottle Music Festival on May 24. On May 25-26, witnesses said they saw her “hanging around ‘shady’ people, who were believed to be methamphetamine users,” the amended report says.

Witnesses also said they were “aware” that Gatlin was using LSD at the festival, and she was witnessed taking “at least 2.5 doses” of the drug LSD on May 27. At 7 p.m. on May 27, friends took Gatlin to a medical tent. She eventually was taken to Twin Cities, where she would die nearly nine hours later, at 3:48 a.m. on May 28.

A search of Gatlin’s belongings turned up methamphetamine, LSD and marijuana, the report says.

“Reports indicated (Gatlin) was a daily marijuana user and possibly used Aderall (sic) without a prescription,” Linn wrote.

In addition, a toxicology report identified a sample of “red gummie material” as LSD.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

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