Combined drug overdose cited as cause of death for man incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail

By Brittany Hailer

Victor Joseph Zilinek, 39, an incarcerated person at the Allegheny County Jail, suffered a drug overdose resulting in his July 13 death, according to a press release from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner. His manner of death was ruled an accident. The combined toxic effects of fentanyl and methamphetamine contributed to his death, according to the medical examiner. 

Past notifications to the Jail Oversight Board have included details of the circumstances leading to the death and the individual’s age. In the case of this death, the only details provided to the board by Warden Orlando Harper in an email were:  “A medical emergency was called for an unresponsive incarcerated individual at the ACJ.  The individual was declared deceased by a medical provider at the ACJ.” 

Since March 2020, 17 men have died after entering the jail, six have died in 2022.

Anthony Talotta, 57, died last week at UPMC Mercy Hospital after he was found unresponsive in his cell at the Allegheny County Jail. Talotta, diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability, was rushed from a mental health unit in the jail. The jail released him from its custody hours before his death.

The office of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced a contract with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to conduct a review of fatalities at the jail in August. 

NCCHC recommends an administrative review and a clinical mortality review for every death in custody. In the event of a suicide, a psychological autopsy is recommended, according to the county press release. The review of fatalities is, according to the county, underway but there is no timeline on the report release date as of yet.

The timeline of Allegheny County Jail deaths in 2022 are as follows: 

September: Anthony Talotta, 57, died at UPMC Mercy Sept. 21 after he was transferred from the jail’s mental health unit and released from custody. Cause of death has not been released by the medical examiner. 

August: Ronald James Andrus, 78, died August 14 in the Allegheny County Jail while held on a probation violation at the facility since mid-July, according to an email Warden Orlando Harper sent to the Jail Oversight Board. “He had been in the hospital for the last 10 days but was released earlier today to return to the jail. He had been back at the facility on the medical unit for about an hour when a medical emergency was declared,” Harper wrote. Andrus was declared dead by jail medical staff shortly before 4:00 p.m. on August 14.

July: Victor Joseph Zilinek, 39, died July 13 in the Allegheny County Jail, his cause and manner of death has yet to be released from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner.

April: Jerry Lee Ross Jr., 48, died at the Allegheny County Jail in April 29. Jail employees conducted CPR and Ross was declared dead by a medical provider at the jail, according to an email from jail spokesperson Jesse Geleynse. The cause and manner of death has not yet been determined by the medical examiner.

March: Gerald Thomas, 26, died March 6 at UPMC Mercy Hospital where he was taken after he suffered a medical emergency in the jail. Thomas died of a bilateral pulmonary embolism, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office.

January: Paul Spisak, 77,  died in January in a hospital after the court released him from Allegheny County Jail custody following an incident which left him unresponsive in his cell on Jan. 22.  The medical examiner determined that his cause of death was blunt force trauma. The manner of death was ruled an accident.

More Allegheny County Jail Stories:

Thirteen men died after going to the Allegheny County Jail. Here are their stories

Her husband died after transfer to the hospital from the Allegheny County Jail. Theresa Harris questions why she wasn’t asked for permission on his surgery and DNR order

Lack of transparency and oversight leave officials, families and media with questions following Allegheny County Jail deaths

In most of the state autopsy reports for those who die in jail are public, but not in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties

Photo by Jake Dabkowski

If you have any information about a death at the Allegheny County Jail, contact Brittany Hailer at or via Twitter @BrittanyHailer.