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December’s Bitter Cold Exacts A Fatal Toll

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Photo Of A Frozen Ditch. (AP Photo)

Photo Of A Frozen Ditch. (AP Photo)

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JOLIET, Ill. (STMW/WBBM) - The unrelated deaths of two homeless men, both found outdoors in Joliet over the past three days, may both be related to the cold weather.

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. 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.

Meanwhile, the death on Sunday morning of a 34-year-old Northwest Side Chicago man was the first confirmed cold death of the season in Cook County.

Krzystoff Pekala, 34, of the 2900 block of N. New England Ave., was pronounced dead at Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center at 8:07 a.m. on Sunday, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said. A spokesman indicated Pekala was found unresponsive on his garage floor. Police responded to Pekala’s home at 6:43 a.m. on Sunday.

An autopsy on Monday revealed Pekala died of cold exposure, with chronic alcoholism listed as a secondary cause of death, the medical examiner’s office said. His death was ruled accidental.

The second cold related death in Cook County appears to be Hans Brueninski, 69, of the 6800 block of Highland St. in Hanover Park, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Brueninski, who was found in his garage, was pronounced dead Tuesday at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates at 11:20 a.m., according to the medical examiner’s office.

An autopsy Tuesday determined Brueninski died of cold exposure and coronary atherosclerosis, according to the medical examiner’s office, which declared his death an accident.

The body of a Palos Park woman 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.

The low temperature on Saturday night was recorded at 23 degrees at 11:59 p.m. at O’Hare International Airport, according to the National Weather Service. Relief isn’t expected anytime in the next few days, temperature-wise.

According to the weather service, low temperatures of 5 to 9 degrees above zero are expected Monday night, with lows of 11 to 15 degrees downtown. Wind chills as low as zero to 10-below zero are expected, as well.

On Tuesday, the high temperatures will hover around 20 degrees, according to the weather service. Wind chill readings of zero to 10-below will greet area residents in the morning.

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.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. WBBM contributed to this report.)

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