• 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

  • Weather

    Coldest temperatures in several years recorded around Alaska

    by Rachael Penton on Jan 18, 14:35

    A statewide cold snap is underway in Alaska. Numerous locations through the central and western Interior recorded temperatures in range of minus 40 to minus 55. The Fairbanks International Airport recorded a temperature of 50 below zero for the first time since Jan. 29, 2012. Ralph M. Calhoun Memorial Airport in Tanana observed a temperature of […]

  • Anchorage police shut down section of Northern Lights to stop car theft

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jan 18, 13:45

    Police shut down a section of Northern Lights Boulevard in Anchorage as officers tried to stop a stolen vehicle. On Wednesday morning, the Anchorage Police Department sent a text message alert stating that traffic was stopped on Northern Lights between Nichols and Bragaw Streets. According to an officer on scene, the stolen vehicle was heading […]

  • DayBreak

    Workforce Wednesday: Millwrights

    by Daybreak Staff on Jan 18, 13:18

    Millwrights are precision industrial mechanics that work on compressors, turbines and other heavy equipment. This field includes high paying jobs servicing equipment that keeps Alaska’s major industries, like fishing and mining, afloat. Interested? The only place in Alaska to get trained is the Prince William Sound College in Valdez. The nationally accredited program is comprised […]

  • Sports

    Former West High football star Fa’amasino heads to New Mexico State

    by Dave Goldman on Jan 18, 12:14

    Lui Fa’amasino knew the odds. Yet, he went against them and won. Nationally, only 2.5 percent of high schoolers who play football make it to the Division I level. The former West Anchorage High School star graduated two years ago. He moved on to Los Angeles Harbor Junior College. As a linebacker there, his play generated […]

  • Lifestyle

    For third straight time, Earth sets hottest year record

    by KTVA / AP on Jan 18, 7:08

    WASHINGTON (AP) – Government scientists say the Earth sizzled to a third straight heat record last year. They mostly blame man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino, which has since disappeared. Last year was also the warmest year on record for Alaska, since records were first taken in the state in 1925. […]

  • Politics

    CBS Poll: More Americans disapprove than approve Trump’s handling of transition

    by Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus, Kabir Khanna and Anthony Salvanto on Jan 18, 6:55

    It has been 10 weeks since Donald Trump was elected president, and more Americans disapprove (48 percent) than approve (37 percent) of the way he has handled his presidential transition.  They are split on his cabinet picks. Views divide heavily along party lines. Just days before his inauguration, Donald Trump’s favorable rating (32 percent) is […]

  • News

    Idaho company sees record silver production at Alaska mine

    by Associated Press on Jan 18, 6:35

    A metal mine in southeast Alaska has reached its highest level of silver production since an Idaho-based company took full ownership of the property in 2008. The Alaska Journal of Commerce reports that Hecla Mining Co. released its 2016 results last week for the Greens Creek mine west of Juneau. The mine produced 9.3 million […]

  • Politics

    New Alaska Legislature starts session with fresh faces, old problems

    by Liz Raines on Jan 17, 20:16

    A new Legislature met in Juneau Tuesday to start work on closing the state’s yawning fiscal gap. The first day of a legislative session in the Alaska State Capitol feels a lot like the first day of school. Some of last year’s members have graduated and moved on, while a new class of freshman lawmakers […]