Juneau police on Wednesday announced preliminary autopsy results indicate Juneau Mayor Stephen “Greg” Fisk died at home of natural causes, ending speculation that foul play was involved.
Fisk’s body was found with multiple injuries, including a bloodied face and bruising on other parts of his body, but those injuries were a result of falling and not an assault, Juneau Police Department Chief Bryce Johnson said.
“When people fall, they sustain injuries, and it can look like there was an assault that took place, and that’s why that the first thought was that an assault took place but it was consistent with a fall,” Johnson told reporters during a press conference at the police station Wednesday.
Police believe Fisk, who at 70 had a history of heart problems, likely blacked out from a medical episode and was unable to protect his face as he fell, resulting in the injuries. Johnson said Fisk struck several items around the room where he stumbled and collapsed, including a countertop.
The autopsy puts the time of death around 6:30 a.m. Monday, police said.
The Fisk family has been notified of the preliminary results. A full autopsy report is not expected for another two to eight weeks.
Fisk was discovered lying on the ground in the front room area of his Kennedy Street home at about 3:30 p.m. Monday after his son, Ian Fisk, went to check on him. Fisk had missed several appointments that day and did not return phone calls.
With injuries involved, rumors quickly flew that the mayor was attacked.
“The first person on scene was the son, and when he saw there was blood — he could see injuries — so the first assumption was someone had done something to him,” Johnson told reporters. “So we proceeded not knowing the cause of death, not knowing if it was something nefarious. And we had an obligation to do that, to rule out all possibilities.”
JPD did not release any information about the possible cause of death or the injuries, except to say they could have been caused by any number of things from a fall to an assault. A nationwide media hoopla ensued, with major news outlets such as ABC News, NBC News, Fox News, Good Morning America, Reuters and the New York Times reporting on or inquiring about the mayor.
On Wednesday, Johnson defended JPD’s handling of the case, saying police could not speculate on what the injuries were prior to receiving the autopsy results. He chalked the media attention up to the “intriguing” nature of the story and “people being people.”
“There was a time period in which we didn’t have any answers, and people being people, they run with the unknown for a couple of days,” Johnson said of the media attention. “It’s Juneau, Alaska, it’s an exotic location, it’s a newly elected mayor, and so it was an intriguing story.”
The police department had earlier issued a statement saying the rumors of an assault were speculative, and the chief in interviews had emphasized there were “lots of possibilities” as to what could have caused Fisk’s injuries.
Fisk, a fisheries consultant, was just elected as Juneau’s new mayor in October. He defeated incumbent mayor Merrill Sanford by gaining 66 percent of the vote.
There’s no word yet on when services will be held. Fisk’s body was sent to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage on Tuesday for the autopsy, which was completed Wednesday morning.
An autopsy for Juneau Mayor Stephen “Greg” Fisk, who died unexpectedly at his home Monday, indicates the 70-year-old newly-elected politician died of natural causes, according to a Juneau Police Department statement.
According to medical examiners, the injuries on Fisk’s body as noted by police Tuesday were consistent with either “falling or stumbling into objects.”
The final autopsy report, which will include toxicology results, is not expected for another two to eight weeks, police said.
Fisk was found by his son, Ian Fisk, around 4 p.m. Monday at the elder Fisk’s Kennedy Street home on Starr Hill in downtown Juneau. Usually there would be nothing suspicious about a 70-year-old man dying at home. In Fisk’s case, rumors started almost instantly around the neighborhood and online alleging foul play. The autopsy report released Wednesday indicted no sign of foul play.
Earlier this week, and without a known cause of death, rumors intensified, gaining attention from national TV networks and talk shows.
JPD spokeswoman Erann Kalwara said Tuesday she and JPD Chief Bryce Johnson had received some 35 interview requests from outlets such as ABC News, NBC News, Fox News, Good Morning America, Reuters and the New York Times.
Fisk’s body was sent to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for the autopsy, which happened this morning, according to Dawnell Smith, a spokeswoman for the office.
Fisk, a fisheries consultant who was just elected as Juneau’s new mayor in October.
• This is a developing story. Check back for further updates.