Police today are investigating the circumstances surrounding a burned body discovered above Lithia Park Tuesday morning in what appeared to be a transient campsite, with evidence of a fire.

Police received the report of a deceased white man in the granite pit area from a passerby around 9:45 a.m., and the passerby led police to the body, said Detective Randy Snow.

"We hate to speculate, but there was a fire, so the person possibly could have accidentally burnt himself," Snow said. "It appears to be a white male adult, but beyond that we don't have a whole lot of answers. We're treating it as if it could have been other than an accident."

Members of the local homeless population suspect the victim could be a man they know as Bennett, who they believe has lived in the Ashland area off and on for 20 years. He has not been seen in about a month, Bennett's friend Daniel Rueff said this morning, but he often camped around the granite pit area.

Bennett had been talking about heading south, but he never told anyone he was leaving like he normally would, Rueff said, nor did he ask the ICCA to hold his mail as he had when he left town in the past.

"If it was Bennett, it's going to create a lot of heartbreak in Ashland," Rueff said.

The body, which was found Tuesday, was not identified. It appeared to have been at the spot above the park for an extended period of time, police said.

The body was turned over to a Jackson County medical examiner. More details will be released after an autopsy, which will determine the time and cause of death, police said.

The case is being treated as a "suspicious death" until further information is developed, police said.

Ashland police are being assisted in the investigation by officials from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and Oregon State Police.

Anyone with information on this case can call Ashland police at 482-5211.

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