Solano Co. jail faces wrongful death claim for man's fatal allergic reaction

The sons of an 83-year-old Navy veteran from Vallejo have filed a claim against Solano County Jail after, they say, jail staff made a critical error and caused their father's slow painful death.

The claim, filed this week with Solano County, alleges wrongful death, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional stress on Kenneth Utterback. 

Watch 2 Investigates' first investigation into Utterback's death 

Utterback did not survive what should have been a temporary psychiatric hold at the Solano County jail, according to his two sons who are now represented by the John Burris Law firm. He died on April 15. 

2 Investigates reached out to the Solano County Sheriff's Office and county officials about the claim, but have not received a response. 

Jail records obtained by 2 Investigates, and first reported in August, reveal that during the jail intake process a correctional officer confiscated Kenneth Utterback’s medical alert tag while the elderly man was in a confused state of mind. 

Jail medical staff then gave him the very medication he was deathly allergic to, according to medical records. 

The result: an allergic reaction so gruesome it left his skin breaking down internally and externally. 

“I said ‘Doctor, that is just what my father looked like 50 years ago when they gave him Dilantin!” Eric Utterback told 2 Investigates in a prior interview.

Eric Utterback said he instructed doctors to request his father’s Veteran Affairs medical records, and it was only then that staff at a different hospital realized he was clearly allergic to the medication he had been prescribed.

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Kenneth Utterback died on April 15, 2019. Wrongful death claim alleges negligence and intentional infliction of emotional stress on Kenneth Utterback.

Records show Kenneth Utterback had been given Dilantin for at least a month by staff at Solano County Jail and Northbay Medical Center in Fairfield.

According to his death certificate, he died of septic shock, multiple organ failure and Steven’s Johnson Syndrome. Steven’s Johnson Syndrome is a rare and serious skin reaction that resulted, in his case, from the Dilantin.

“I want Solano County Jail to be held accountable,” Kenneth Utterback’s youngest son, Trent Utterback, said in August. “I’m angry right now because their neglect killed my father.”

Postmortem photos show the elderly man’s body peeling and his face blackened as if scorched in a fire. He was transferred to two hospitals before ultimately being sent to UC Davis’ burn center where he died in April.

Doctors repeatedly wrote “No known allergy” on medical records. 

As a result of 2 Investigates’ reporting, the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, immediately launched an internal investigation and changed its inmate property handling policy. 

As of Wednesday, 2 Investigates is still waiting for the results of that investigation.


Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Send her comments and story tips at