Police Suspect Cocaine Overdose in Death of Former 'Amazing Race' Freelancer Jeff Rice

4:47 PM PST 02/22/2012 by Michael O'Connell

UPDATED: The South Africa-based production facilitator, found dead in a Uganda hotel, was originally reported as being poisoned in a shakedown.

After initial reports of foul play, poisoning and a shakedown, the Amazing Race freelance producer who died in Uganda on Feb. 17 is now believed to have suffered from a drug overdose.

Jeff Rice, a 39-year-old American production facilitator living in South Africa, had previously worked on Race, Whale Wars and Destination Truth. The staff of a luxury hotel in Uganda's capital city of Kampala found his body on a balcony and his assistant, Katheryne Fuller, unconscious in the room.

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A story from Fox News had the death the result of a failed shakedown and a deliberate poisoning. ABC News now reports that Ugandan police claim he died of an apparent cocaine overdose.

“Those were misreported rumors about this being some kind of attack by thugs," said Uganda Police Force spokesman Asuman Mugenyi. "We do not believe that, and we do not believe this was any type of food poisoning. Again, we are still investigating and will know much more when we can talk to Ms. Fuller."

Fuller is on the mend, but has yet to speak to police.

Rice's family was also skeptical of the initial reports. Speaking with MSNBC on Tuesday night, Rice's brother-in-law said the circumstances were unclear. "I don't know where they are getting this 'definitely poisoned' thing," said Paul Blackman. "We've sent people up there to get some answer... Nothing is finalized yet."

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Born in Oklahoma, Rice moved to South Africa nearly 13 years ago and married, had two children and held dual citizenship. "Jeff was on a film production in Uganda and was doing what he loves," his wife, Sally Blackman, said in a statement. "He was a true asset to the film industry worldwide and Africa was his 'home.'"

The Amazing Race was one of Rice's more recent projects, facilitating for the current season. He was not working on the show at the time of his death, but series' co-creator and EP Bertram van Munster released a statement on his passing.

“Our Amazing Race team is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Jeff’s untimely death,” van Munster said. “The show is not in production right now, but we have utilized Jeff’s company on several occasions over the course of the series to help with advance work when the Race visited Africa. He was well liked and his work was highly respected.”

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