ROUND LAKE PARK, Ill. (STMW) — It was a perfect storm of events that led to the hypothermia death of Joey Frase of north suburban Grayslake, whose body was found Jan. 22 near Campbell Airport.
Police Chief George Filenko said Wednesday authorities wrapped up their investigation this week and were able to determine almost exactly what happened that night when temperatures were near zero with windchill and the young Frase, 20, was dressed in just two short-sleeved T-shirts and a hoodie pullover sweatshirt. The investigation also found that at some point Frase got soaked from the middle of his chest down.
“It was a perfect storm of circumstances,” said Filenko.
Frase had walked to a tavern in Grayslake not far from his home to meet with some friends. He had his brother’s identification with him and the other friends were of age to be in the bar that Saturday night.
They took a cab ride late in the evening to a party in the Medrona Village subdivision in Round Lake Park where Frase had visited other friends before and had walked home down Route 120.
On this Saturday night into Sunday morning, Frase was last seen as his friends entered the party and he decided to stay outside and smoke a cigarette at 1:15 a.m.
“At one point, he made a decision to try and walk home,” said Filenko, and he did not go into the party. “He may have actually walked in the wrong direction that night, and it was a perfect storm of circumstances,” he said, noting that it was 20 degrees and wind gusts in the 30 to 40 mph range.
According to the National Weather Service, the high on that Sunday was 23 degrees at 12:09 a.m. and had dropped to 10 degrees by 8:30 a.m. with winds at 23 mph and gusts recorded at 39 mph.
“On top of that, he was not dressed in layers and he had no coat at all,” he said, adding that an officer took off his coat in an experiment in the area with temperatures close to those that night and found his arms and hands got numb and ached within a minute or so. Alcohol was a contributing factor, according to the coroner, and Frase’s blood-alcohol level was .09, one point over the legal limit for driving.
Evidence at the scene also showed that his pants were frozen and his T-shirt had a waterline on it half way up his chest, so somewhere at a nearby stream or pond, he got wet, making the loss of core temperature accelerate. Police also found him with his hoodie halfway off, a classic sign of what is called paradoxical undressing.
“Fifty percent of the hypothermia cases have this,” Filenko said, which is phenomenon where the person thinks they are getting hotter and they start to take their clothes off, making the loss of heat even worse.
Also pointing to hypothermia was Frase’s confused state where he called friends and told them he was at Washington and Lake streets. His confused and disorientated state might have also led him to some woods and brush-covered dome area where he might of been seeking shelter instead walking toward the houses with lights on. “People tend to instinctively go to an area that appears to be shelter,” the chief said, like the wooded area. “But if you’re that confused, (the houses) are not going to make sense to you.”
Toxicology tests showed he had no other drugs or other substances in his system besides the alcohol and he had no pre-existing health conditions.
Once hypothermia goes from mild, medium to critical, you fall asleep pretty quickly.
Filenko said that as a parent he wanted to be able to tell the parents exactly what happened to their son and give them some closure.
“They want to know why, so this gives some closure,” he said.
Frase was found on Tuesday, Jan. 22, after police and friends put out a missing person messages and bulletins. He was found around 10:30 a.m. in a tree line near the entrance road to the airport.
Filenko said he called in evidence technicians with the Lake County Major Crime Task Force to gather evidence at the scene as a precaution. Filenko is commander of the task force and his department finished the investigation.
Frase was known as a friendly person who liked skateboarding and fishing.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)