First Confirmed Death Linked To E.Coli Outbreak At San Diego Restaurant

November 14, 2023

Authorities have confirmed the passing of a person who fell ill after dining at the San Diego restaurant responsible for a severe E. coli outbreak.

John Christ Ferber, aged 87, passed away on Friday, October 26, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office. His passing marked the first fatality among cases of Shiga-toxin-producing E. Coli linked to a location of Miguel's Cocina Mexican restaurant in San Diego's 4S Ranch. 

Although Ferber became ill in October after allegedly dining at Miguel's, his precise cause and manner of death await official autopsy results. County of San Diego Director Michael Workman disclosed that the He had underlying health issues and was under medical care at the time of his passing. 

Ferber was a Korean War veteran who spent over 30 years working as a commercial real estate banker and executive vice president at U.S. Bank, as detailed in his obituary. He also served for ten years at the Mortgage Bankers Association of America and dedicated over 22 years to the University of San Diego. John is survived by his loving wife of 59 years, his three daughters, his five grandchildren, a great-grandson Nicholas, sister and nephew.

Beginning in October, at least 35 cases of E.coli infections were linked to Miguel's Cocina, located on Craftsman Way in 4S Ranch. The ill people or their families reported eating at the restaurant from October 6-18 and had symptoms starting on October 13. Ten of those cases led to hospitalization with at least one person developing the more severe complication of the infection called hemolytic uremic syndrome, according to a county statement.

Following the outbreak, the first lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman who was purportedly sickened after eating at the restaurant. According to that complaint, the people who have come down with symptoms include a 14-year-old boy who was once "fighting for his life." The woman who filed this first lawsuit reportedly ate at Miguel's on October 12, the complaint states. A second lawsuit against Brigantine was filed on behalf of Denis Bisson, a San Diego resident who alleges he became ill after eating at Miguel's Cocina in 4S Ranch.

"The nature of this outbreak is disturbing," said attorney Ron Simon in the second lawsuit. "While some of our clients ate chips and guacamole, others, like Mr. Bisson, developed E. coli after eating mushroom, chicken, and shrimp fajitas. In addition, the victims ate there over the course of 12 days, and that means there was a serious, endemic problem for a prolonged period of time. The victims were being exposed to a serious pathogen for a much longer period of time than in most restaurant-based outbreaks."

The first complainant ate chips, rice, guacamole and drank iced tea, then a few days later began suffering from "extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea, and noticed a significant amount of blood in her stool," leading her to seek medical treatment on October 17. Doctors later diagnosed her with Shiga Toxin producing E. coli, according to the complaint, which states she's since been discharged from the hospital but continues to experience some symptoms. The second complainant consumed mushroom, chicken, and shrimp fajitas at the restaurant.

Miguel's Cocina voluntarily closed the 4S Ranch location for 10 days and had a "soft" reopening on Friday night, November 3. During its downtime, the restaurant was allegedly disinfected and all all food at the restaurant replaced. Staff were also purportedly given food handling training and testing. County health officials are still investigating the specific food items that were the source of the Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) at the restaurant. Insiders speculate the cause of the outbreak was tainted cilantro.

Miguel's Cocina is a restaurant brand owned and operated by Brigantine Inc., which got its start in San Diego in 1969 when Mike Morton Sr. and family opened the first location of the surf & turf centric Brigantine restaurant on Shelter Island (in the space where a Miguel's is now). Brigantine Incorporated now employs more than 1,200 San Diegans and operates more than 15 restaurants in San Diego County, including Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar restaurants, Miguel’s Cocina, Ketch Brewing, and Top Sail restaurant in downtown San Diego.