A doctor working for San Luis Obispo County under a last-chance agreement has, once again, been criticized for conclusions he reached in an autopsy report.
As reported in last Sunday’s Tribune, medical experts say it’s impossible that a young woman who became ill at a Lake San Antonio music festival died from a LSD overdose; they believe it’s likely that some other drug caused her death.
Yet an LSD overdose was the conclusion drawn by Dr. Gary Alan Walter, who conducted the autopsy on 20-year-old Baylee Gatlin of Ventura.
Walter is the same pathologist who concluded that Andrew Holland died of natural causes. Holland is the County Jail inmate who died a short time after spending a torturous 46 hours strapped in a restraint chair. That’s 36 hours longer than the maximum time recommended by manufacturers.
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Walter, who declined to respond to The Tribune’s request for comment, also faces state disciplinary action — his license could be revoked or suspended — over a drunken driving conviction. The doctor was arrested last year for driving under the influence while on his way to work in San Luis Obispo.
His blood-alcohol content was 0.19 — more than twice the legal limit. And he was on his way to work?
Much as we believe in second chances, we’ve got to ask: Would you want a drunken doctor performing an autopsy on your loved one, especially if there was controversy surrounding the cause of death?
The county should have ended the work relationship with Walter at the time of his conviction, rather than giving him a last-chance agreement to remain working under contract.
Even when Walter’s contract expired in June, he remained working under a month-to-month agreement.
The Sheriff’s Office claimed it had “simply no alternatives.” That’s frightening. The Sheriff’s Office has no contingency plan to fill such a critical position, so it’s stuck with someone who’s in jeopardy of having his license revoked?
The county did authorize hiring a full-time forensic pathologist in December, but the Sheriff’s Office says it’s had a hard time filling the position due to a nationwide shortage of pathologists and a relatively low maximum salary of $248,000 per year. (To put that in context, it’s more than the $239,000 per year that county Chief Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi made when he resigned in May.)
According to spokesman Tony Cipolla, the Sheriff’s Office expects to announce a hiring soon, and anticipates the new forensic pathologist will begin work in early September.
That’s a relief.
However, in the meantime, the county still plans to keep Walter on contract.
“There are no viable alternatives at this time,” Cipolla wrote in an email.
Again, that’s just not acceptable.
As Tribune reporter Matt Fountain pointed out, Walter has made other missteps, apart from what’s already been outlined.
One example: He testified in a 2016 murder trial that he examined the alleged victim’s gallbladder. One problem: The victim’s gallbladder had been removed years earlier.
What a way to instill confidence in a jury!
More recently, he’s been criticized for his conclusion that Gatlin died of an LSD overdose.
“It defies logic,” pharmacologist Dr. David E. Nichols told Tribune reporter Monica Vaughan.
Nichols went on to say that Gatlin would be the first of 30 million people to die after taking the small dose she ingested. He believes she likely died after taking some other drug.
What difference does it make if Gatlin died of an accidental overdose of LSD — or some other drug?
Here’s one reason: The best way to prevent future drug deaths from occurring is to put out correct information that can serve as a warning to others. It’s especially concerning if Gatlin was led to believe the drug she took was LSD, and it was something else entirely.
We strongly urge the Sheriff’s Office to repeat the blood testing at another lab.
Even if the same result is obtained, it would be scientifically significant if Gatlin were, indeed, the first person to die of such a low dose of LSD.
Bottom line: Public confidence in the Sheriff’s Office already has been shaken by Andrew Holland’s death.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson should do everything in his power to dispel the cloud of uncertainty over how Baylee Gatlin died.