Police try to determine how man was critically injured

Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Fairbanks man was found hypothermic and critically injured by the side of a road Tuesday morning and no one seems to know how he ended up with severe head and chest injuries.

Alaska State Troopers originally thought Justin Richards, 23, was hit by a motorist who dragged him across the road and left him to be spotted by another motorist -- or to die. That changed after doctors found more injuries that weren't consistent with the hit-and-run scenario, said trooper Sgt. Dave Drvenkar.

Richards' older sister, Richelle O'Neill, said a doctor at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital told family there were head injuries that might be more consistent with an assault.

''They did a lot of stitches on his face,'' O'Neill told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''There looks to be stab wounds. They just found those an hour ago.''

Richards, however, does have a road rash consistent with a hit and run, O'Neill said. But one thing was apparent, O'Neill said.

''Somebody definitely left him.''

The victim's body temperature was only 85 degrees by the time he arrived at the hospital, his sister said. A woman driving by discovered Richards lying on the side of the road at Mile 6.5 of Chena Ridge Road, said trooper Mike Duffield.

Duffield said the woman called 911 and an ambulance quickly took Richards to the hospital. Along the way, he managed to indicate to medics the vehicle involved was a dark truck, O'Neill said. The roads were icy in the morning, but Duffield said the motorist involved in the incident was in control of the truck. Duffield said there were blood marks from the middle of the road to where Richards was found. But Drvenkar said later troopers weren't sure if someone dragged Richards or if he pulled himself to the side of the road.

''There's any number of things that could have happened,'' Drvenkar said. ''It's not a clear-cut hit and run, so we're not calling it a hit and run.''

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