• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 18s

A cold death

By Rhonda McBride 10:47 PM December 26, 2013

Woman found dead in used car lot raises questions and tugs at heartstrings

ANCHORAGE - As morning rush hour traffic was starting to build on East Sixth Avenue in Fairview, Anchorage police had cordoned off a used car lot with yellow tape.

They were called to Alaska Professional Auto Dealer around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, after a woman’s body was found in a white Chevrolet van. Shortly after, medics pronounced her dead at the scene.

Police later identified the woman as Elaine Marie Cleveland, 34, of Anchorage.

As neighboring businesses began to open and watched investigators photograph the van, workers already suspected what had happened.

“It makes me feel blessed, I guess, to have a warm place to sleep at night,” said Ryan Suchan, who works at Far North Supply, which has a shop across the alley from the car lot where Cleveland was found. “Every morning we come to work. We see people get out of the cars, the homeless people, you know. They seek shelter to get out of the elements.”

Turns out Suchan was right. Investigators did not find signs of foul play. An autopsy revealed that exposure to the cold was a factor in Cleveland’s death.

Temperatures overnight ranged from -3 to 6 degrees.

Later in the morning, a man named Ed walked by. He recalled spending a night in one of the cars in the same auto lot where Cleveland died. He said it’s better to keep moving when it’s so cold — but when you’re drinking, the urge to rest somewhere, anywhere, gets stronger. Ed said sleeping in a car would not be his first choice, because it’s like sleeping in a “cold box,” which in Cleveland’s case turned out to be a coffin.

A woman who only wanted to be identified as Charleis, pronounced “Charlie,” knows something about sleeping in cars. She said a week ago she reached her 30-day limit at the Brother Francis Shelter.

She was sleeping in a tent — but after it was stolen, her brother let her use his car to live in. It’s parked near the shelter, and she worries that it may be towed because it no longer runs.

Charleis prefers the tent to the car.

“You might as well sleep in a tin can,” she said. “You ever put a tin can out? And then you look on the inside, it’s going to be frozen.”

For now, Charleis is making do with the car, even though it was vandalized. Two windows were busted out, windows now covered with blue tarp.

“In here, it’s cold,” Charleis said, as she rubbed the frost off the dashboard and exhaled a frosty breath of air. “It’s cold, ain’t it?”

To keep warm at night, Charleis wears five layers of clothing. She has a bedroll and a blanket that she uses to cover her head and keep warm air inside a cocoon.

At least there’s one thing she doesn’t have to worry about:

“That’s my food right there,” Charleis said, pointing to a plastic grocery bag. “It ain’t gonna spoil.”

Charleis said she can relate to what happened to Cleveland. She wonders if Cleveland had been drinking alcohol.

“When you pass out, first you’re cold. Then you start getting warm. Then you start relaxing, and then you go into a deep sleep,” Charleis said, who described the impact of extreme cold and too much alcohol as an experience like a coma. “And when you go into that coma, you’re slowly dying.”

Anchorage police said it might be six to eight weeks before toxicology results are available for Cleveland. They aren’t saying much about the circumstances which led up to her death — how she got into the van, whether she was homeless or whether she breathed her last breath on Christmas day or sometime the next morning.

“If that lady did not have no blankets or anything, she would have been frozen within three hours,” Charleis said.


Latest Stories

  • DayBreak

    Medical Myths: The real and imagined risks with vaccines

    by Daybreak Staff on Nov 25, 11:08

    Physicians and health officials have been battling misconceptions about vaccines over the past several years. Many parents are now choosing not to get their children vaccinated — a move, doctors say, that prompted the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland over the summer. Wednesday, Dr. Michael Reeves, a family physician at Medical Park Family Care, joined […]

  • Sports

    Making Waves: Pepperdine’s Ogwumike leads the climb back

    by Dave Goldman on Nov 25, 10:55

    Erica Ogwumike is blazing her own path in Malibu. The freshman guard is leading the rebuild of the Pepperdine University’s women’s basketball program. “I’m just trying to play these four years, play basketball, and get a great degree at Pepperdine University, so that’s all I can — the future is far,” she said. There’s another […]

  • DayBreak

    6th annual ‘The Pour’ event helps feed the hungry in Anchorage

    by Daybreak Staff on Nov 25, 10:17

    Helping feed the hungry by celebrating the flavors of the season — the 6th annual “The Pour” event is a fundraiser for Bean’s Café and the Children’s Lunchbox. On Thursday, Dec. 3, people are invited to the Alaska Native Heritage Center for some fine wine, craft beer and gourmet food. Dana Applebee, event chair or […]

  • Crime

    Not guilty plea entered in rural Alaska abduction case

    by Associated Press on Nov 25, 9:55

    A not guilty plea has been entered in the case of a man accused of repeatedly raping a woman and holding her captive for five weeks in Alaska. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/4IJCFS) reported that 37-year-old Daniel Selovich of Manley Springs was arraigned Tuesday in Fairbanks Superior Court, where his public defender entered the plea […]

  • News

    Alaska wants Fairbanks area split into 2 air quality zones

    by Associated Press on Nov 25, 7:50

    The state of Alaska is calling on the federal government to split Fairbanks and North Pole into separate smoke pollution non-attainment areas. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://bit.ly/1PNxtJE) that the state’s request comes as the Fairbanks North Star Borough faces tougher rules for smoke emissions, mainly due to worsening emissions in the North Pole area. […]

  • News

    Freezing rain closes schools again in Mat-Su Borough

    by Daybreak Staff on Nov 25, 5:52

    The following schools will be closed today, Nov. 25, due to freezing rain, according to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District: * Willow Elementary * Trapper Creek Elementary * Talkeetna Elementary * Su-Valley Junior, Senior High * Houston Middle and High School * Big Lake Elementary * Beryozova K-12 School All but one school was closed yesterday […]

  • News

    Anchorage Assembly approves 2016 budget in 7-4 vote

    by Eric Ruble on Nov 24, 23:11

    The Anchorage Assembly has passed the 2016 budget proposed by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. In a 7-4 vote, the Assembly approved the most recent version of the $481 million budget with no amendments to the version submitted Tuesday. Despite an $11 million shortfall, next year’s budget is $2 million smaller than the previous year’s thanks to […]

  • Sports

    UAA women’s basketball team makes a statement at Great Alaska Shootout

    by Dave Goldman on Nov 24, 23:04

    Division I Pepperdine is rebuilding. Division II University of Alaska Anchorage is rolling. In a game that was never in doubt, the host and seventh-ranked UAA dismantled an overmatched Pepperdine Waves from the West Coast Conference 94-61 in the opening round of the women’s GCI Great Alaska Shootout at Alaska Airlines Center. UAA is no stranger to beating Division I teams. This marked […]