Mountains

Cold caused park death

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

Autopsy results have confirmed that the April 8 death of a Towaoc woman was caused by hypothermia and liver cirrhosis, not a violent assault as some had speculated.

Shortly after her death, rumors began circulating that Ann Margaret Wing, 47, had been raped and beaten in Centennial Park before succumbing to her injuries at Southwest Memorial Hospital several days later.

Wing was found face-down and unresponsive in Centennial Park, near the duck pond, by Cortez police at about 7 a.m. on Saturday, April 6. She was transported immediately to the hospital and died two days later.

Theories that her passing was the result of an attack are unfounded, according to Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane.

“(County Coroner Charlie Rosenbaugh) ordered an autopsy, and there was no evidence of foul play or signs of trauma,” Lane said. “No stab wounds. No abrasions. She was not raped. The cause of death was determined as hypothermia and a liver ailment. Her liver gave out.”

Robert Kurtzman, a forensic pathologist from Grand Junction, carried out the autopsy.

“We had been told there was a possibility (Wing) had been raped. When she passed away, we had an autopsy and rape kit done simply because of what people had told us,” Lane said.

In a sad twist, Wing was not far from safety when she collapsed. Centennial Park is adjacent to the Bridge Emergency Shelter. The shelter didn’t close for the season until April 18 — three days later than normal because of cold weather — meaning Wing was, at most, several hundred yards from a heated place to sleep.

Her blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit.

“I can’t be sure, but she may have been on her way to the Bridge, passed out, and didn’t make it,” Lane said.

Local meteorologist Jim Andrus said night temperatures during the first week of April ranged from 28 to 37 degrees. Biting cold nearly set a record on April 19, at 16 degrees.

The long-term average low temperatures for April, from beginning to end, rise from 29 to 37 degrees. In May they continue ticking upward, from 37 to 44 degrees (by May 30).

Staying open longer, at least one more month into the spring, is a top goal for shelter manager Donna Boyd. Currently the Bridge opens its doors nightly from mid-October to mid-April. It accepts both sober and inebriated individuals, though they are separated once inside.

Boyd said Wing was not a habitual guest. She stayed at the shelter only two previous nights this season — one in January, and one about a week before she died.

“She was not on our radar. We’re always on the lookout for guests who stay with us regularly. If they don’t show up, it sets off alarm bells,” she said. “That wasn’t the case with (Wing). She had a home in Towaoc, family and friends here in Cortez. She had other options.”

Several nights before she was rushed to the hospital, Boyd said shelter staff found Wing in a similar predicament, lying unresponsive in Centennial Park. They turned her over to the police and she did not stay at the Bridge that night.

“She found somewhere else to stay that night,” Boyd said.

She remembers last seeing Wing on Friday evening, the night before she was taken to the hospital.

Boyd urged Cortez residents to notify dispatch if they see a person — drunk or otherwise — sleeping outside and unresponsive in the late afternoon to evening hours. Spring is here, but the nights are still chilly enough to be dangerous.

“If you find somebody passed out near a dumpster, behind the library or the tennis courts, let dispatch know,” Boyd said.

Dispatch can be reached at 565-8454.

Wing’s death comes as a devastating blow to Boyd, who was yearning for a winter season with no deaths by exposure.

Mary Rose Shay, 47, died in January 2012, near the recreation center in Parque de Vida. She had a house and family in Cortez, Boyd said.

Michael “Tag” Garner, who was homeless, died near downtown in January 2011.

“It’s heartbreaking and sickening. It turns my stomach and makes me feel horrible,” Boyd said. “Both (Shay) and (Wing) had places they could’ve gone. The shelter was close, and they had family. There was no reason for them to die.”

Hypothermia can cause death even when the temperature rises above freezing. Old age, dementia, intoxication by drugs or alcohol, dehydration, poor nutrition, medical conditions that inhibit blood flow, and ground surface are heightened risk factors. A person who passes out on concrete is more liable to freeze than someone on grass, for example, since the hard surface leeches heat out of a human body.

lukeg@cortezjournal.com

Most Read in News

Newsarrow

Sportsarrow

Communityarrow

Livingarrow

Opinionarrow

Columnistsarrow

Classifiedsarrow

Call Us

View full site


© The Cortez Journal