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    Coroner: Former Palm Desert Assemblymember Brian Nestande died of drug overdose
    • May 30, 2024

    Brian Nestande, a former state assemblyman and county administrator found dead in his Palm Desert home on March 6, died of a drug overdose, the Riverside County Coroner’s Bureau has determined.

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    An autopsy report obtained Wednesday, May 29, by the Southern California News Group revealed Nestande, 60, died of cardiac arrhythmia caused by “multiple substance intoxication.” Toxicology results showed he had fentanyl, cocaine and the sedative Lorazepam in his blood at the time of death.

    The autopsy also indicated Nestande had an enlarged heart, narrowing of his coronary arteries and changes in his kidneys consistent with chronic hypertension, which also may have contributed to his death.

    Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said Wednesday that an investigation is underway to determine, among other things, where and from whom Nestande obtained the drugs, whether he knowingly ingested fentanyl, or if he had unknowingly ingested fentanyl-spiked cocaine.

    Bianco said he could not comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

    Political career

    Nestande grew up in a political family. His father, Bruce Nestande, served on the Orange County Board of Supervisors for six years and three terms in the state Assembly. He died in 2020 at the age of 82.

    Brian Nestande managed the successful congressional campaign for former Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono and served as his chief of staff until Bono’s death in a skiing accident in 1998. He subsequently served as Rep. Mary Bono’s chief of staff when she succeeded her late husband in Congress, according to Nestande’s website.

    Nestande also served as an assemblymember for the 64th and 42nd Assembly districts from Dec. 1, 2008, through Nov. 30, 2014. And from 2015 to 2021, he worked as a deputy chief executive officer of legislation for Riverside County.

    Nestande established Nestande and Associates in Palm Desert and was doing government consulting at the time of his death.

    Grim discovery

    Nestande’s friend, Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez, found Nestande’s body on the floor at his home office on Vermeer Way about 2 p.m. on March 6. Hernandez told coroner investigators he and his friends had been out to lunch together and said they had not seen or heard from Nestande in a few days, so they went to Nestande’s house to check on him, according to the coroner’s investigation report.

    Finding the front door locked, Hernandez and his friends entered the residence through an unlocked sliding glass door in the backyard. Nestande’s wife, Palm Desert Councilmember Gina Nestande, was out of town at the time, but told Deputy Coroner Arysa Gonzalez-Romero via telephone she would be returning the following day.

    Hernandez did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

    Investigators noted there appeared to be no signs of foul play inside the residence. Nestande’s body was found on the floor next to his desk. His body was cold to the touch, according to the coroner’s report.

    Nestande’s desk was covered with paperwork, and a cup containing clear red liquid and an electronic cigarette were found next to a laptop computer, according to the report.

    A bottle of losartan pills from Mexico, which are used to treat high blood pressure, also were found in the residence, according to the report.

    Medical history

    Gina Nestande, who did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, told Gonzalez-Romero via telephone that her husband had been taking medication for high blood pressure, and that his younger brother had died at a young age from heart complications. She told Gonzalez-Romero that while her husband did not appear to have any heart issues, he did not consult a physician regularly, according to the coroner’s report.

    A pill found in Nestande’s shirt pocket was determined to be modafinil, a medication that promotes wakefulness and to treat conditions such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

    Nestande’s doctor told Gonzalez-Romero via telephone she had not seen Nestande since September 2022 and had prescribed him losartan and rosuvastatin, which is used to treat high cholesterol, according to the coroner’s report.

    The doctor, according to the coroner’s report, informed Gonzalez-Romero that Nestande had a family history of cardiac events – that his father died of a heart attack and his brother died of a heart attack at age 49.

    Community ‘champion’

    Following his death, Nestande was touted by those who knew him best as a “champion for the community.”

    Among them was Assemblymember Greg Wallis, R-Bermuda Dunes, who served as Nestande’s campaign manager in 2014 and said Nestande’s pragmatic approach in working with colleagues was something he would take with him throughout his career.

    Riverside County Supervisor Manny Perez said he and Nestande entered the state Assembly together in 2008 representing the Coachella Valley, and although they had different viewpoints, they formed an alliance that grew closer and stronger while working throughout the Great Recession. He said he will always remember Nestande as a devoted advocate for Riverside County.


    ​ Orange County Register