Coroner: Man Left at Hospital Likely Died of Natural Causes

The 55-year-old man who was found dead outside Jerold Phelps Community Hospital early on the morning of March 28 almost certainly died of natural causes, Deputy Coroner Trevor Enright said last week.

While an autopsy was performed last Wednesday, Enright said that an official cause in the death of Christopher Duke, a longtime member of the Garberville-Redway area transient community, would have to wait for toxicology results, which could take up to three weeks.

He said that given Duke’s history of substance abuse, meaning alcohol and methamphetamine, “he may have had something on board that was extremely toxic.”

“But it looks pretty straightforward. There’s no evidence he was harmed. It looks like he died of natural causes.”

While Enright said that Duke, who reportedly worked as a trimmer, appeared to have been physically fit to the point of being “muscular,” internally “he was not well.”

“He had cardiovascular [conditions including] congestive heart failure. It looks like he had a massive heart attack.” Enright said.

Enright said a video camera captured a vehicle approaching the hospital and then cutting its lights shortly before midnight. The same vehicle is then seen turning its lights back on and leaving the area a few minutes later.

But because the footage was taken from only one angle, Enright said the vehicle’s license plate was not visible. Not even the make and model of the vehicle is clear, although Enright described it as an older four-door.

Enright said that a security officer discovered Duke while making his rounds at approximately 2 a.m. Then a nurse checked him and determined “he was gone.”

Enright said it’s possible Duke was alive when he was dropped off. “Rigor [Mortis] was not present” when the nurse found him, so “he hadn’t been dead long,” he remarked.

But given Duke’s medical history, Enright said he suspects he died before he was left on the hospital grounds.

Another indication that he was dead on arrival: The bedsheet he was found lying in had also been placed over his face. “His face was covered,” Enright said.