Elderly woman freezes in driveway

Posted: Friday, November 18, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A 100-year-old woman who suffered from dementia died from the cold outside her Anchorage home, police said.

Ester Persinger was found dead on her driveway Tuesday night, wearing only a nightgown, robe and one slipper in freezing temperatures.

The state medical examiner's office said she died of hypothermia.

Persinger lived alone in a house she had occupied for more than 40 years just off the Seward Highway near the Potter Marsh ranger station in Chugach State Park. She had no nearby neighbors. The last time anybody had spoken to her on the phone was Monday night.

The low temperature between Monday night and Tuesday night in Southwest Anchorage was 4 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

Tami McQueen, Persinger's niece and closest living relative, said she did not want her aunt to live alone in such a remote place. She had tried to get her to leave and move into an assisted living home, but Persinger refused.

Brian Andrus, a friend who found Persinger's body, said he took it upon himself to care for the woman he met at church more than 25 years ago.

"You would have had to force her to leave, and she would have lost her spirit and her will to live," Andrus said.

Andrus said he or someone in his family called Persinger three to five times a day. He couldn't get through on the phone to Persinger Tuesday.

"I figured she had bumped the phone off the hook," he said.

When Andrus went to check on her, he found her body frozen and lying in the driveway. The door to her house was wide open. A scarf and some other items in a small bundle were also on the ground, "like she was going somewhere," he said. The slipper she was not wearing lay halfway between her and home.

Andrus said he usually locked the gate around Persinger's front yard in an effort to keep her from wandering away, then left the key on the mailbox if someone wanted to get in. She had wandered twice from her house last summer and was found nearby by park rangers, Andrus said. On Sunday, however, the last time he visited her, he had forgotten to lock the gate.

McQueen said her aunt married in her late 30s, came to Alaska in 1948 and never had children. Her husband died about 30 years ago and she continued to live by herself.

"She was a crusty pioneer," Andrus said. "That's why I loved her so much. She was very independent."

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