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Bitter Cold Blamed For 4 Area Deaths

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Photo Of A Frozen Ditch. (AP Photo)

Photo Of A Frozen Ditch. (AP Photo)

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Updated: 12/07/10 2:47 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – The brutal cold that has settled on the Chicago area is now blamed for four deaths.

The latest is that of a Palos Park woman who was found frozen in a ditch late Sunday. She is the same woman reported missing after a family gathering Saturday in the southwest suburb.

She was identified Tuesday as 51-year-old Paula Spika, according to Cook County Sheriff’s police spokeswoman Liane Jackson.

Spika was last seen about 11 p.m. Saturday near 123rd Street and 86th Avenue, just a few blocks from where the body was found about 10:40 p.m. Sunday.

An autopsy Tuesday found she drowned, but the manner of death (accident, homicide or suicide) was undetermined, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Spika was found lying face up in a 4-foot ditch and partially frozen in ice, including her head, sources said.

She was fully clothed and no signs of trauma were found on her body.

Palos Park Police Chief Joel Miller said a missing person alert was issued about 9:30 p.m. Sunday after Spika was seen Saturday night getting into a vehicle after leaving a family gathering.

She was in the vehicle, but at some point got out of the vehicle and wanted to walk, Miller said. It was unclear what happened after she got out of the car.

Police continue Tuesday to investigate, but Jackson said, “We don’t believe she was the victim of foul play.” Sheriff’s police are “not looking for anyone who may have harmed her.”

Earlier, Krzystoff Pekala, 34, was found unresponsive on the floor of his garage in the 2900 block of North New England Avenue in the Northwest Side’s Montclare neighborhood. He was pronounced dead at Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center at 8:07 a.m. Sunday.

An autopsy revealed that Pekala died of cold exposure, with chronic alcoholism listed as a secondary cause.

The cold is also blamed for the unrelated deaths of two homeless men in Joliet.

Thomas G. Sands, 61, was pronounced dead at 11:23 a.m. on Friday after he was found outside in a field near a homemade shelter on the 100 block of South St. Louis in Joliet, according to the Will County Coroner’s office.

An autopsy on Saturday found that Sands’ death may be weather-related and he died of hypothermia, or cold exposure, according to the coroner’s office. Further tests and a police investigation will be performed before a final cause of death can be issued, according to the coroner’s office.

The death of a 44-year-old man, who was also found outside in Joliet, may be weather-related, according to the coroner’s office.

Robert K. Mullins was found outside on the 200 block of South Larkin Avenue in Joliet. He was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m. on Sunday, according to the coroner’s office. Preliminary results of an autopsy performed on Monday found that Mullins’ death may be due to natural causes, but the coroner’s office notes that hypothermia has not been ruled out, either. A final ruling on his death is also pending police, autopsy and toxicological reports.

Temperatures sank to 1 degree above zero in some areas early Tuesday morning, with wind chills as low as -13. At O’Hare International Airport, the temperature was a comparatively balmy 13, but the wind chill was still -1.

CBS 2’s Megan Glaros reports that on Tuesday, the high temperatures will top out around 21 degrees. On Wednesday, highs are expected to be in the lower 20s, with morning wind chills in the zero to 10-below range again.

Last winter, 12 deaths in Cook County were attributed to the cold.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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