Hypothermia death suspected in Natchez

Published 12:06 am Friday, January 5, 2018

NATCHEZ — A Natchez man died Thursday after exhibiting signs that point toward hypothermia as the cause.

James Ruffin, a 56-year-old Natchez man, was found lying inside his residence, which appeared to have little to no heating, Adams County Coroner James Lee said.

A dispatcher notified Lee of a possible deceased person at 9 Old D’Evereux Drive at approximately 6:05 p.m., and Lee pronounced Ruffin dead at approximately 6:20 p.m.

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“(Ruffin) has no known medical history and there were no obvious signs of foul play,” Lee said. “However, there were signs of the decedent being frozen.”

Lee could not identify the time of death.

Natchez Police Capt. Scott Frye said officers investigated the scene and agreed that nothing indicated foul play.

“I sent investigators over there, but we didn’t see anything to indicate anything other than natural causes,” Frye said.

Lee said he listed the mechanism of death as acute respiratory arrest, with the cause of death being consistent with hypothermia.

Lee said a family member told him the residence was supposed to be heated, yet Lee himself said he could not feel any heat while inside.

“This case is very sad to me, but it’s (even) sadder to me when someone dies accidentally,” Lee said.

After taking blood samples, Lee informed Ruffin’s family of the findings and released Ruffin to the funeral home of the family’s choice.

An autopsy was not requested.

The unusually low temperatures in the area this week, he said, make a typically unlikely condition such as hypothermia possible.

“In temperatures like this, it’s not rare at all. It’s just that we don’t get these types of temperatures that often,” Lee said. “And when you do, you have to be prepared, as state agencies warn you to be when you’re facing these types of drops in temperature.”

Natchez Internist Dr. Kenneth Stubbs said the reason low temperatures cause such a risk is because humans — when left vulnerable to the cold — begin to experience a decline in core body temperature.

The body’s first symptom of low core body temperature, Stubbs said, is that a person will begin to shiver, which is the body’s attempt to generate heat.

“When you start shivering, that’s when you know your core body temperature is getting low,” Stubbs said. “If core temperatures start getting down below 90 (degrees Fahrenheit), it can start having effects on your mental status and you can lose the ability to shiver.”

Though the impact of cold depends on a number of physical variables, Stubbs said inadequate clothing in low temperatures could be lethal, especially for the elderly or sickly.

“It doesn’t have to be that cold if you’re not protected,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs encouraged everyone to monitor relatives and friends who are elderly or infirm and ensure that they are well protected against the cold.