Sons sue over medicine mix-up that killed Navy vet in sheriff's custody

Two sons of an 83-year-old Navy veteran have sued Solano County and its sheriff after their father was given medicine that ultimately killed him while he was in custody.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges civil rights violations, wrongful death and medical malpractice surrounding the treatment of Kenneth Utterback.

For decades, Utterback wore a medical alert tag around his neck stating he was severely epileptic and allergic to anti-seizure medication, Dilantin. That tag was taken from him by jail staff when he was processed after getting arrested by Vacaville police for acting violently last year. He was placed on a temporary psychiatric hold.

But soon, it was that very drug, Dilantin, that medical staff started to give Utterback in jail.

andemic. Since then, members have not had access to physical items from the library.

Medical records show his health deteriorating and he was transferred to several hospitals. Utterback had been given Dilantin for at least a month by staff at Solano County Jail and Northbay Medical Center in Fairfield.

Doctors repeatedly reported “no known allergies” for more than a month.

But according to his death certificate, he died of septic shock, multiple organ failure and a rare and serious skin reaction that resulted, in his case, from the Dilantin.

Utterback died at UC Davis Burn Center in April 2019 after the severe reaction left burns, peeling skin and his face looking as though it had been scorched in a fire.

“To me, that’s evil,” his son, Trent Utterback, said. “We want to get some light shed on this dark situation.”

Civil rights attorney John Burris is representing Trent and his brother, Eric, and his suit calls for accountability and a change in policies.

“That was no way to die,” Burris said. “We thought something had to be done not only for the family but hopefully protect the next senior person who comes there with a medical condition.”

KTVU originally brought the concerns to the Solano County Sheriff’s Office last August and a spokesperson said changes were implemented immediately. It prompted a memo telling deputies who come across alert tags or medical paperwork to let medical staff know right away.

Since then, an internal investigation was completed but officials declined to release it.

Attorneys representing Solano County wouldn’t comment specifically on the case but expressed condolences to the Utterback family for their loss.

Utterback’s two sons said they are not interested in a big payday but would rather see the county set up an educational scholarship in their father’s honor and ensure nothing like this happens again.

“We want the system to change,” Trent Utterback said. “For everyone else, not just for him.”

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU