Akiachak man found dead in Bethel cul-de-sac

Zaz Hollander

A 37-year-old Akiachak resident and salmon fisherman was found dead in Bethel on Wednesday, his body frozen to the ground within walking distance of the church that serves as the community's new homeless shelter.

Marvin Paine was discovered by someone walking by at 4 p.m. Wednesday in a cul-de-sac on Akakeek Road, Bethel police Lt. Andre Achee said Thursday. That person called 911.

Police and medics responded to the call and found Paine "partially frozen to the ground and deceased," police said in a written statement. He was wearing multiple layers of clothing, Achee said.

There was no sign of trauma and foul play is not suspected in Paine's death, he said. Alcohol is believed to have been a factor, though the lieutenant wouldn't say exactly why, only that it was indicated by items found at the scene.

Police think Paine was found within 24 hours, Achee said. His body was discovered outside a home off a path in an area of Alaska State Housing Authority homes.

During the day, the cul-de-sac is visible from the half-dozen homes in the area and school was out until Wednesday, he said. Daytime temperatures in Bethel during that period were in the mid-30s during the day and dipping just below freezing at night.

A new emergency homeless shelter opened in December in the Bethel Covenant Church.

Paine could have walked to the warm shelter's sleeping mats from the place he died, said Rusty Tews, vice-president of the Bethel Winter House Lions Club that formed to create the shelter.

Anywhere from eight to 16 people stay at the shelter every night, Tews said, and they can be intoxicated when the arrive provided they're not unruly. Nearly 50 volunteers had signed up to help out as of this week.

Along with the new shelter, intoxicated people in need of a safe place to sleep can seek refuge at the Bethel Sobering Center, run by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. And for the last five years or so, members of a community-service patrol administered by Bethel police have roamed the streets, looking for people incapacitated by alcohol.

Paine's death came despite that safety net, said Tews, who serves as manager of the sobering center.

"It's kind of heart-breaking in a way for some of my team," he said

Several people have died of exposure in Bethel in the last couple years, some in unheated buildings, Achee said. Paine marked the first death of the year in Bethel.

Police notified Paine's next of kin in Akiachak, a community of a little more than 600 people on the west bank of the Kuskokwim River 18 miles northeast of Bethel.

The tribal administrator in Akiachak said everybody in the village knew Paine.

"He lived here most of his life," said Jon Lomack, administrator for the Akiachak Native Community.

Paine spent many years commercial salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim. He moved to Bethel for a few years for a job at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. hospital but had recently moved back to Akiachak, Lomack said.

The State Medical Examiner's Office is conducting an autopsy.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.