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Awaiting autopsy results, Juneau copes with mayor's sudden death

  • Author: Pat Forgey
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 1, 2015

JUNEAU -- The state medical examiner is scheduled to conduct an autopsy on the body of Juneau Mayor Greg Fisk on Wednesday, and police hope that will tell them why he died unexpectedly on Monday.

"I do not know what caused the death. I cannot say if it was foul play or if it was not. I need to get cause of death first," said Bryce Johnson, Juneau's police chief.

Fisk, 70, was found in his downtown home Monday afternoon by his son, Ian Fisk, after he had missed appointments that morning. Fisk was divorced and lived alone.

Johnson said it is not obvious what caused Fisk's death, but there is no evidence of suicide. There were injuries that may have come from a fall or assault, and the autopsy might determine which is more likely.

The lack of an obvious cause of death has caused speculation, which Johnson tried to tamp down.

"Any rumors are just that -- they're rumors and speculation," he said.

"We're very methodically investigating every possibility," he said. "We want to make sure when we are done we can tell the family and the public what happened. We think we owe that to the family and to the public," he said.

The investigation has involved documenting the scene at Fisk's home, reconstructing a timeline of his last hours, looking into his medical history and interviewing neighbors.

Friend and neighbor Sally Schlichting said that after talking with police, she doubted the rumors that there had been an assault.

"I suspect he may have died of natural causes, but they're doing their investigation like they would for any unattended death," she said.

Fisk won the job of mayor in October, ousting Merrill Sanford by a 2-1 ratio in a low-key race.

"He had a lot of great ideas, and he was really focused on Juneau's future," said Fisk's campaign chair, Bob King.

Fisk had spent years working as a consultant in the fishing industry and also owned a quota allowing him to fish for halibut. Recently, he was talking about buying more halibut quotas, King said.

King said he too, believes Fisk's death was natural.

"I have no reason to suspect anything otherwise. I just know (police) are giving it the due diligence they give any unattended death," King said. "And this was the mayor."

King said he's known Fisk for many years from living next to him on Kennedy Street and having a mutual interest in fishing. King was a fisheries adviser for former Sen. Mark Begich.

While Fisk had spoken of past medical issues, including a previous stroke, he was fit, swam daily and hiked regularly, King said.

"He wasn't a couch potato," he said.

While Chief Johnson said he didn't yet know the cause of Fisk's death, he added there is no reason for anyone to be alarmed.

"We are not actively looking for anyone," he said. "We don't have any indication that anyone is at any sort of risk at this point."

He said that officers who had canvassed the neighborhood concluded that "most people really loved the mayor," he said.

The interviews didn't turn up any reports of suspicious people in the area, he said.

City Clerk Laurie Sica said Deputy Mayor Mary Becker is now serving as mayor while the city attorney researches the process for filling the seat permanently.

Becker rescheduled to Dec. 21 a city Assembly meeting that had been scheduled for Monday, she said.

The last time Juneau had a mayoral vacancy was when Mayor Byron Mallott -- now lieutenant governor -- stepped down to head the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Dennis Egan, then the deputy mayor, became mayor, and then was elected to the position the next year. Egan now represents Juneau in the state Senate.

Juneau has a city manager form of government, so the mayor leads the Assembly in setting policy but does not administer the city. City Manager Kim Kiefer had been on personal leave Monday, but returned early to be back in the office by Thursday.

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