Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 5:53 am | Fair 54º


Sheriff’s Department: Inmate Death Appears to Be Suicide

29-year-old Lompoc man was charged in a fatal suspected drunken-driving crash

Friday’s Santa Barbara County Jail inmate death appears to have been a suicide,
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said Monday.

Juan Rodriguez-Zepeda
Juan Rodriguez-Zepeda

The Coroner’s Bureau is investigating the cause of death and scheduled an autopsy for this week.

A custody deputy found inmate Juan Rodriguez-Zepeda unconscious in his one-man cell about 3:35 p.m. Friday. Sugars said several deputies immediately responded and began CPR on Rodriguez-Zepeda, who was not breathing.

Jail medical staff, Santa Barbara County firefighters and American Medical Response paramedics also responded, but Rodriguez-Zepeda could not be revived and he was pronounced dead at 3:54 p.m., Sugars said.

Rodriguez-Zepeda, 29, of Lompoc, had been in the County Jail since being booked March 21 on suspicion of DUI and vehicular homicide in a March 19 head-on crash on Highway 154. One of the victims, Danny Ordas, 67, of Santa Barbara, died of injuries from the collision, which also injured two other people.

Sugars said he wasn’t sure why Rodriguez-Zepeda was housed in a single-man cell, but that the cells are used for myriad reasons, including if the person has a history or feud with another inmate, a family member in jail, a gang affiliation or another issue that would warrant separating the individual.

Rodriguez-Zepeda was not in a safety cell, which is used if inmates are considered a danger to themselves or other people, Sugars said Monday morning. He didn’t know how long Rodriguez-Zepeda had been housed in a single-man cell.

The County Main Jail was on extended lockdown after a series of fights in the jail within a week and another on a bus en route to a Santa Maria court appearance. The first fight, involving 12 men in an exercise room area, was a “premeditated fight involving members of Hispanic gangs with ties to the state prison system,” Sugars said. Two men were taken to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. The second fight occurred as the jail was being taken off lockdown, one housing section at a time. That one involved six men, one who was transported to the hospital.

Even on the buses, inmates are chained at the hands and feet and some are placed in solitary seats that are “essentially a cage when they travel,” Sugars said. Regardless, somehow four inmates were able to fight and injure one another, though none was sent to the hospital.

Sugars said housing inmates is complicated by the overcrowding issue and increase of high-risk inmates.

After the third fight, he said, “the inmate population has boiled away through early release. Now we’re at a point where 80 percent are high-risk or violent and (often) on the way or back from state prison. It’s a different clientele.

“This was built to be a county jail; these days it’s more like a state prison. It’s not built for that level of inmate — only one-third of the facility is built to handle that.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.