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Poison or overdose? Mystery over TV producer found dead in Uganda deepens

Production facilitator Jeff Rice, who worked for reality shows including the current season of "The Amazing Race," was found dead in his hotel room in Kampala, Uganda, and his production assistant was in critical condition after a suspected poisoning, the man's grieving widow told FoxNews.com.

"They were not attacked, but [evidence] points toward being poisoned," Rice's widow Sally Blackman said Tuesday. "[A]t this stage it is quite difficult to give you any firm reports as the incident is currently under investigation by the Uganda police."

However, the English language Ugandan online newspaper The Daily Monitor quoted a police official Wednesday as saying Rice died of a cocaine overdose.

"Results from the analytical laboratory indicate that there was an overdose of cocaine. There was too much concentration in the stomach,” law enforcement rep Asuman Mugenyi was reported as saying.

The Daily Monitor identified the production assistant as Catherine Fuller, and said that while her condition was improving, law enforcement had yet to get her statement.

The police rep said the preliminary investigation pointed to death by choking, but that since two people were involved, that didn't make sense. 

"We ordered for another post mortem, which revealed that it was caused by an overdose,” the rep is reported as saying.

Addiction specialist Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, PhD, of Stony Brook University, says an overdose of cocaine in the stomach would most likely be from forced ingestion or a smuggling operation gone bad.

“If someone were to snort very large amounts of cocaine, there could have been some trace amounts from nasal drip into the stomach. But if the concentration was found in the stomach, that’s likely a result of smuggling or ingestion,” Kardaras, who is not involved in the case, told FoxNews.com. “A typical overdose from the traditional methods of using cocaine is not going to be in the stomach. If it was found in his stomach, it could absolutely have been the result of poisoning if he was forced to ingest it.”

New York State Coroner Michael M. Baden, MD, who has worked on celebrity cases including Anna Nicole Smith and Nicole Brown Simpson, concurs. “Even if both were voluntarily using the drug, it’s very unusual that two people would have such similar symptoms so quickly from an accidental overdose,” Baden said. “It sounds like there is more to this story than a typical overdose.”

Baden said if the family has questions, they do have recourse.

“If the family is concerned about poisoning, they should have the body brought back to the U.S. and have a second autopsy with toxicology reports done,” he said.

The Ugandan police rep denied reports that the two were victims of foul play. But a source close to the show told FoxNews.com the two were thought to have been poisoned after a failed shakedown. 

Blackman did not want to make any further assumptions about her husband's death in light of the ongoing investigation.

"I would not like to speculate or even attempt to give my views on this as this may jeopardize the investigation going forward," she said.

Rice ran the production company Maverick Entertainment.

"His dream for Maverick Entertainment was to produce in all areas of Africa," Blackman said. "He loved the African people and was driven to share in all the various cultures."

Rice and the assistant were not currently working on "The Amazing Race," but he had worked on Season 20, which premiered on CBS on Sunday. Rice had also worked on Animal Planet's "Whale Wars" and the South African version of "The Biggest Loser," along with several other series and television movies.

Facilitators like Rice are typically hired by larger production companies to make necessary arrangements with local officials before producers come in to shoot scenes for their shows.

After hearing the tragic news, friends of Rice took to Twitter to express their grief. SyFy Channel personality Josh Gates said, "Floored by the loss of my dear friend & fellow adventurer, Jeff Rice. You were, quite simply, the real deal. I'll never forget you."

Rex Williams from Syfy's ‘Destination Truth’ tweeted, "Lost my great friend, Jeff Rice. I can't tell you how saddened we are. He was a true adventurer."

Rice was originally from the United States and moved to South Africa in 1999, where he worked to help develop the country’s film industry. That year, he and Blackman founded SB Entertainment, which specializes in "producing and facilitating films, commercials, documentaries, television and still campaigns."

Rice produced under the banners of both SB and Maverick Entertainment.

Rice and Blackman were married in 2001. Along with his widow, Rice leaves behind two young children, ages 7 and almost 2. Rice had been expected home on February 25 to celebrate his daughter’s second birthday.

"Jeff was a dedicated father who made the most of his time with his family when back home in South Africa," said Blackman. "He has left a huge void, not only in the film industry, but with his family he has left behind. We will miss his smiles and constant humor."

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