Thursday, July 25, 2024

35-Year-Old Man Found Dead in Ukiah Vineyard—Death Investigation Underway

[Graphic by Matt LaFever]

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Captain Greg Van Patten confirmed that on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, a dead man was found in a vineyard between Ukiah’s Norgard Lane and Plant Road. 

Captain Van Patten identified the decedent as 35-year-old Ukiah resident Justin Michael Malugani. At this point in the death investigation, a medical emergency or possible overdose appear to be contributing factors. There are no obvious signs suggesting foul play, Captain Van Patten told us, and an autopsy with a blood alcohol/toxicology analysis is slated for next week.

Malugani was found dead in a vineyard by a worker. Captain Van Patten said, “The property is owned by the City of Ukiah and leased to a local vineyard management company.”

Justin Malugani’s mugshot after the May 2020 incident

Malugani was convicted of arson and other crimes after a May 2020 incident where he lit a boat, a motorhome, and three vehicles on fire near the Ukiah airport. The Mendocino County Superior Court Portal states he was sentenced to three years in state prison as a result of these actions. We were unable to determine when he was released from this sentence.

He has nearly a dozen criminal cases that have gone through the Mendocino County Courts dating as far back as 2002.

In 2014, Malugani sat down with Mendocino County resident Jason Killilea, who at that time was producing a YouTube series entitled “Word On the Street”, where the two discussed Malugani’s life on the streets of Ukiah.

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It’s worthy of noting the area where Malugani was found deceased is within walking distance of the railroad tracks that serve as a common route for Ukiah’s homeless to traverse town.

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  1. ?? I wish I knew this person so I could be the one to say something nice. I’m sure he had some good qualities and family who loved him even if they couldn’t save him. I hope he knew that God loved him. And I hope he prayed to Jesus. We can choose to see only the bad. ??

  2. R.I.P. young man. The video tells a story of his life and the twists and turns through his own words. Sad outcome to a troubled life.

  3. I knew him and his family. He did not have an easy life that’s for sure. No excuse for his past actions, but trauma will lead people to some very dark places. I hope he is finally at peace and I know he has several loved ones who were waiting for him on the other side.

  4. I am appalled that you would print a booking photo, and go on about his past in an article announcing his death. Shame on you. Wishing his family peace. ??

    • The truth hurts. We live in a world where this young man slipped away and got lost in the prison system and addiction. Maybe instead of trying to hide that reality, it’s important to highlight it.?

      • ?This young man was only 35 years old, he could’ve changed his life at any moment I know plenty of people who have done just that. I’m one of them. But the online world is growing more calloused as I type.

        If you are struggling please know if you want to change your life, pray. Jesus Christ is real and He will hear your hearts cry. Talk to God. Talk to Jesus. Your help will come, if you want it. Please don’t die alone out there. Reach out for change. Go to a Bible believing church.

        But for the grace of God…there go I.

        ?? Love one another.
        ~Holy Bible~

      • With all due respect Matt, hearing there truth sometimes does hurt but wth we get over it! Truth is .. digging up”the dirt” on someone requires little effort for a reporter, hell, we all can type a name in the search bar…
        Truth is.. actually doing some foot work and printing a paragraph of something(anything) that depicts a person as a human who wasn’t born a criminal and probably brought smiles to people faces would be quite impressive!!!
        I agree, people should hear the truth… but the way you write it almost sounds like it’s a “death to not be mourned” or a “good riddance you varmint “…

  5. This article written about an unwell man. Is REVOLTING! Yes, he did some terrible things, he served his time that judge found appropriate.

    A person that has clearly been struggling for MANY years with mental health and substance use, has lost his life!!!
    In no way is including his criminal history relevant or acceptable! Someone’s son has lost his life! How would you feel reading this about a loved one, you just lost?

    • The realities of Justin’s life tell the story of a world that left him to his own devices and failed to show him another way. How can we fix problems like homelessness and drug addiction if we cannot talk openly about a life lost to these things?

      • Great answers Matt.
        Great Reporting.
        The truth does hurt.
        Arsonists end up killing people as they burn more and more and are constantly released.I have been in Burn Units, it is horrifying.

        Homeless promoter and video blogger Jason Killilea looking so much a hip 1960’s PBS reporter opens video discussion with the stunning words. “WE are going to start off with the life story and then get to the now and — and the reality of everything”.

        Wow man is the answer 42 ?????

        Life is tough, make bad choices, life gets tougher quickly.

    • To the people upset about the booking photo being included with the article about this man being found deceased, please remember….THIS IS NOT AN OBITUARY. Maybe it will help someone out there who is struggling with drugs, thinking “it will never happen to them”. As Matt said…”the truth hurts”.

      Stop sugar coating the world. This is what drugs do.

      • I would encourage his family members to write him an obituary somewhere. He was loved by his family AND God. Jesus Christ will be his judge. Not y’all.

        Genna, if this was my loved one I’d write him a beautiful obituary. Let people know he was more than his mistakes. ??

  6. Perhaps the meaning of “foul play” should be formally adjusted.
    Just because there’s no blood or bruising should absolutely not disqualify the potential for foul play. There are many ways that foul play could be meticulously calculated and executed without leaving a scratch.
    That should be paramount for this investigation, period.
    And the people’s pasts should respectfully be left out of such public notices. This is horrendous.

  7. To the people greatly disturbed and stating that Mendofever is being very disrespectful for posting the mugshot and history of the person’s crimes, I would ask you to consider the perspectives and needs of the community. Arson is not a victimless crime with the homeless person in the community. People who lived near where he set fires occasionally would have seen him walking the streets. The sight of Justin could result in PTSD and anxiety for those people. They might only recognize him from his mug shot, and by posting it, Mendofever is allowing those people some possible closure. This news report was and continues to be important to the community. Numerous fires have been set in our town lately, and the death of a convicted arsonist is relevant. If someone would like to write and submit an alternate view of Justin, I am sure Mendofever would be willing to consider publishing it. When people who have had a notable impact on the community die, it is crucial to publish the good and bad that impacted local people.

    • Hey well good thing he’s dead right? Now the people can sleep easy. Jail was the only place for him to go! No one was hurt in the small fire that was set. I understand fire is a touchy subject. And rightfully so. People do loose their lives but in this case it was a chance to go back to a place of shelter and food. He was released from jail. Still homeless and ended up dead. It’s nothing less than tragic!

  8. I knew Justin and his brother. This breaks my heart. He was always such a sweet, kind kid. Stuck up for kids on our bus route home. His life had meaning and purpose and he was far more then the crimes he committed in life. RIP praying for his family who have now hurried 2 boys far before their time.


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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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