TV man dies in mystery poisoning

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feb 25 hospital bed

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Ugandan authorities appear to be preventing a Durban woman fighting for her life in a Kampala hospital from being returned home for urgent medical treatment.

Kathryne Fuller, from Gillitts, assistant to film producer Jeff Rice, 39, who was found dead in a Kampala hotel room last week, is in a critical condition according to a family spokesman and her father is desperately trying to bring her home.

US-born Rice, 39, who founded Maverick Entertainment and co-owned the Durban film production company SB Productions with his wife, Sally Blackman, was found dead in a room in The Serena Hotel last Friday, according to The Daily Mail. His wife confirmed on Friday night from their home in Durban that he had died on Saturday in Kampala.

SB Productions specialises in taking film crews to exotic locations around the world.

A post-mortem showed that Rice, who worked as a fixer on the reality TV show, The Amazing Race, Destination Truth and Whale Wars, had large quantities of cocaine in his stomach. However, sources told The Daily Mail that Rice and his colleague, Fuller, may have been poisoned, having been forced to ingest the drug after refusing to hand over their belongings to “local thugs”.

The pair were not working on The Amazing Race at the time but had been part of the team helping create the challenges across Africa in the current season which hit international screens on Sunday.

Police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi told Ugandan online newspaper The Daily Monitor that laboratory tests had indicated there had been an overdose of cocaine.

“There was too much concentration in the stomach,” Mugenyi said. He said Fuller, in her first year in the film industry, was improving, but had not yet spoken to the police.

Family and a friend said on Friday they did not believe the pair had used drugs.

Speaking for the family, Fuller’s cousin, Grant Roy, said Fuller’s father, Stuart Fuller, was in Kampala desperately trying to return his daughter to South Africa for urgent medical treatment but the police seemed to be hindering the process.

“Every day we are hoping to get her on a plane back to SA and we are still waiting for the police clearance. The police report says there was no foul play but… they say she can’t be released,” Roy said. He said Kathryne, who was in a critical condition, could barely speak.

“The family here don’t know what’s going on,” Roy said. “They are playing it down in the Ugandan media. There are reports that it (cocaine) has been in their stomach as if they were forced to eat it, or as if they were smuggling, which is ridiculous,” he said.

“They are an advance team who go in before the production crew arrive to set everything up. I work in the same industry. You are working 18 hours a day and there is no way there is time for a coke-induced party,” Roy said.

He said they had arrived last Wednesday for a film about a hearing-aid NGO.

Roy said the Department of International Relations and Co-operation had stepped in to assist, but he wanted to plead with the SA government to step up the urgency to bring her safely home.

“The biggest thing right now is we would like to get her back to South Africa to get the medical treatment she needs,” Roy said.

Fuller matriculated at Thomas Moore College, spent time studying at the Christian Bible Institute in Pinetown, had studied psychology and was working as a production co-ordinator.

Rice’s wife said on Friday night that she was devastated.

“We are extremely grateful to the staff at The Serena Hotel in Kampala and the local police for doing everything possible to assist us. We respectfully ask that we be left to grieve at this most difficult time in our lives, as we cherish the memories of Jeff, a wonderful husband and father,” Blackman said.

However, Blackman declined to comment on the circumstances of his death.

“There is still an ongoing investigation and I would not like to jeopardise this in any way,” she said.

Durban fashion designer Karen Monk-Klinjstra, a mutual friend, said it was out of character to suggest they had used cocaine.

“Apparently Jeff has not touched a drink or a cigarette or anything for eight years. Kathryne has modelled my range, she is a beautiful girl,” Monk-Klinjstra said. “This was a rainbow for her, going out to film on location, and now this is horrific.

“She is not an overly adventurous person, out to take a risk, but a go-getter with an absolute heart of gold. The Ugandan government do not want to release her and her passport has gone missing. In my opinion she is an innocent bystander,” Monk Klinjstra said.

She described Rice as a man who was “larger than life” who had an “incredible spirit and was incredibly zealous and loved by so many people”.

Durban Film Office CEO, Tony Monty, said Rice’s death was a “huge blow” to the local film industry. “He has been working in the film industry for as long as I have been in the film office. He was one of the key facilitator producers in the city and has brought some fairly high-profile projects to the city.

“He was a line producer who facilitated service works when an international company comes and was quite an important link in being able to support the international productions.

“Jeff was a great person to work with and he worked quite closely with Durban film office and we will really miss that. He often put himself out on a limb to assist us and his door was always open. It’s a real blow for the local film industry and it is a very sad for the Durban film industry,” Monty said.

Rice is survived by his wife and two daughters, aged seven and two.

Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman, Clayson Monyela, confirmed on Friday night that the department was helping the family. - Independent on Saturday


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