Man found dead on beach near downtown

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The body of a 52-year-old homeless man, John Hansen, was found on the beach near the Department of Labor building downtown Monday evening.

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Sgt. Tom Bates said a preliminary field investigation showed no foul play, no trauma or obvious injuries. Hansen was found face down in the tidal zone, his clothing soaked and one hand clutching his chest. Though foul play is not suspected, Sgt. Dave Campbell said investigating officers were not convinced Hansen drowned because the usual signs of drowning were not there.

The incident was the third of its kind since May 19, when 49-year-old Mark Jackson was found dead on a beach near his camp on south Douglas Island. On June 6, police found 52-year-old Henry Demmert floating near the Taku Oil dock in Gastineau Channel.

Campbell said the number of water-related deaths over the time period is not terribly unusual.

A caller reported finding the man near the Department of Labor shortly before 5:30 p.m. Monday, police said.

"He saw what appeared to be a coat on the rocks and went to investigate, and found the body," Bates said.

Police have requested an autopsy in hopes of determining what caused his death. But, according to Campbell, it's tough to get the Alaska Medical Examiner's Office in Anchorage to do autopsies.

He said an autopsy was requested after Demmert was found, but the state denied the request. Instead the state ordered a toxicology screening, Campbell said.

Local police request an autopsy with an unattended death as a matter of procedure.

Toxicology doesn't determine a cause of death, Campbell said. Families have a right to know what happened, he said.

The medical examiner's office did perform an autopsy on Jackson and determined that he died of exposure before being partially eaten by a bear.

The results of Demmert's toxicology screen were never announced.

After several phone calls, the medical examiner's office agreed to accept Hansen's body and determine if an autopsy or an "inspection" would be conducted. Either way, Campbell said a toxicology screen would probably be done.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or

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