Medical examiner says Valley man died of natural causes, but family disagrees

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- Corey Newell, 32, whose body was found in mid-February, 45 days after searchers found his snowmachine in Meadow Lakes, died from exposure but also had a fractured skull, according to a State Medical Examiner's Office autopsy report released this week by family members.

Newell was last seen Dec. 29 when he left a friend's house in the Pittman Road area of Meadow Lakes. Searchers found his Polaris snowmachine three days later in the woods off Pittman. His frozen body was found in the area on Feb. 12.

Friends and family contend that Newell died under suspicious circumstances. But medical examiner Dr. Ken Gallagher found that Newell died from "hypothermia due to environmental cold exposure." He called "(b)lunt force injury of the head" with a fracture near his right eye a "significant other finding" in the Feb. 28 autopsy report.

"These injuries are consistent with a reported snow machine accident," he wrote.

Troopers found nothing to indicate foul play or that someone else was involved in Newell's death, "but we don't know exactly what happened," troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said Wednesday. A friend moved the snowmachine, and it was several days before Newell was reported missing, Ipsen said. He wasn't wearing a helmet and may have wandered off and succumbed to the elements, she said.

A toxicology report revealed Newell had amphetamines, methamphetamine, morphine and the psychoactive compound found in marijuana in his system at the time of his death, she said.

Newell's family calls his death suspicious. Relatives and friends think he was murdered or was fleeing an attempt on his life when he disappeared, Newell's mother, Debbie Davis, father, Wesley, and brother, Lance, said during an interview Wednesday at In & Out Grocery & Deli, the Palmer sandwich shop and store Davis owns. Lance and Wesley stopped by there on their way out to a gold mining claim near Healy on Wednesday.

The men said the snowmachine still ran after the accident. The bumper was smashed flat -- it looked like somebody did it intentionally -- but the skis were intact, Wesley Newell said. The Polaris wasn't exactly "wedged" as prior reports indicated but instead was sort of pushed against "a little tree and a bigger tree," he said. He saw no evidence of a big crash in the area when he examined it later.

Davis points to at least one inconsistency in the autopsy report: Gallagher described "natural teeth in good condition," but Newell had his front teeth knocked out during a stint at McLaughlin Youth Center, the state juvenile justice facility in Anchorage. Newell had a criminal record including no-contest pleas or convictions for driving under the influence, unlawful evasion, and drug charges.

The family believes that someone planted the snowmachine to cover up a crime and may have kept Newell's body in a freezer before returning it to the area, they say.

Davis said during the investigation into her son's death, troopers told the family they were looking into reports he came across a group of people "thieving" in the area and at least one shot was fired.

Ipsen confirmed Wednesday that the reported confrontation was one of the theories troopers looked into but said investigators could not substantiate "any of that information."

A celebration of life was held for Newell on April 20 at Davis' house. Family members helped Newell's now 4-year-old son release three big orange balloons at Hatcher Pass on Father's Day.

"Nothing will bring him back," Davis said. "But I want to know who's responsible so I don't have to look at everybody and wonder."

Reach Zaz Hollander at or in Wasilla at (907) 352-6705.