Police no longer have any reason to suspect an Ashland woman who was found unconscious and hypothermic on Clear Creek Drive on New Year's Day was abducted and sexually assaulted, in light of new evidence discovered last week, the police chief said today.
Police no longer suspect that an Ashland woman who was found unconscious and hypothermic on Clear Creek Drive on New Year's Day was abducted and sexually assaulted, the city's police chief said Monday.
Detectives believe the woman was partially naked and appeared badly beaten not because of an assault, but as a result of extreme hypothermia, which can lead victims to remove their clothes and can cause their skin to become blue and puffy, Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said.
None of the evidence submitted to the Department of State Police Forensic Laboratory and returned to Ashland police late last week suggested that the woman had been sexually assaulted, he said.
"It is still possible that something else happened to her that night, but at this point, it appears everything we know about was all a result of the hypothermia," he said,
The woman had been drinking but did not appear to be highly intoxicated when she left a party in the hills above downtown at 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, partygoers told police. Officers believe the woman began walking home and, at some point, became hypothermic and disoriented, leading her to eventually pass out on Clear Creek Drive, Holderness said.
Detectives have no evidence that drugs or other people were involved in the incident, he said.
Hypothermia can lead to what is called "paradoxical undressing," in which victims go from being extremely cold to having the sensation of overheating, causing them to remove their clothing. In fact, that undressing accelerates the effects of hypothermia.
Police have been hesitant to release information about the victim, to protect her identity, but say she is approximately 30 years old and remembers little about what occurred between the time she left the party and woke up in the hospital more than a day later.
A passerby discovered the woman at noon on Jan. 1 and called 9-1-1. According to police reports, the victim was lying on the sidewalk at the dead-end portion of Clear Creek Drive, off North Mountain Avenue, a semi-rural area near the railroad tracks and a construction project.
The woman appeared to be near death when officials arrived on the scene, police said.
About two weeks after the incident, the victim began to remember bits of what transpired after she left the party, Holderness said. It's not unusual for people to experience memory lapses following hypothermia, he said.
"She doesn't believe she was sexually assaulted," he said. "She does remember struggling, but she thinks she was alone, and that's consistent with hypothermia, which causes disorientation and sometimes unusual behaviors."
Temperatures were hovering around 34 degrees at the time the woman was found, but they had plunged lower during the rainy night before. The woman, who had recently moved to Ashland, had been wearing a jacket and pants, Holderness said.
"Obviously they were not warm enough," he said. "She wasn't dressed appropriately for cold weather."
The fact that the woman had been drinking likely played a role in the incident, because alcohol can make the body's core temperature fall faster, he said.
Detectives sent two rounds of evidence to the crime lab, in order to "be absolutely sure" there was no indication a sexual assault occurred, Holderness said.
Officers are still suspicious about a few aspects of the case, especially the fact that the woman's purse, ring and cell phone were missing when she was found, he said.
"There were just a lot of really suspicious things and some of them we still don't understand," he said.
Police found the woman's purse in a bush, roughly between the party and her home, and more than a mile from where she was found.
Just last week, the woman told police "she remembers falling into a bush at some point," Holderness said.
The woman had the battery to her cell phone with her when she was found, but the phone and ring have still not been located, he said.
Officers were never able to find anyone "who could positively say they saw her after leaving the party," Holderness said.
Fifteen minutes after she left the party, other partygoers called her cell phone to check on her, he said.
"She answered the phone and was fine at the time," he said. "They called her a short time later and she didn't answer. So during that 10- to 15-minute range, that's kind of when something went wrong."
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