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Hypothermia likely caused death of Ellsworth man who got stuck during storm, police say

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ELLSWORTH (BDN) -- A dead man found partly undressed and face-down in snow Friday in Ellsworth likely died from exposure, police said Monday.

Investigators won’t be certain what killed 54-year-old Paul Bouffard of Ellsworth until an autopsy is finished, but the clues indicate no foul play, Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier said.

“The main thing we would like people to take from this story is the importance of being prepared,” Moshier said Monday. “Tragedies like this can be prevented if somebody knows when and where you’re out and about.”

Bouffard was last seen at his home on Bucksport Road at about 10 p.m. on Thursday. A female friend told police that he had been planning to deliver paperwork to his father’s house on Turnbull Way, Moshier said.

When she last saw him on Thursday night, she warned Bouffard to be careful in the rough weather ? near-zero temperatures and snow driven by powerful gusts of wind ? before going to bed, Moshier said.

After family members reported him missing on Friday morning, officers found Bouffard’s Subaru station wagon stuck in the snow on Turnbull Way. They then found his body about 20 feet from the road and 150 yards from his father’s house, Moshier said.

Officers presume that Bouffard had planned to make a short walk from his Subaru to his father’s driveway, but his car apparently got stuck in whiteout conditions Thursday night.

Turnbull Way is a dirt road with no streetlights, which would greatly limit visibility and vehicle traction.

Bouffard was dressed only in blue jeans, a lightweight jacket and button-up shirt, Moshier said. The fact that he was missing both shoes, his coat unzipped and his shirt partly unbuttoned, might indicate a late stage of hypothermia, a condition in which a person’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the centers, nationally about 1,000 die from hypothermia annually.

Hypothermia can cause sleepiness or confusion, and as part of its late stages, victims can experience the dying of nerve endings in their skin. It can compel paradoxical disrobing, in which the brain wrongly interprets the death of nerve endings as heat, compelling victims to begin to disrobe, according to the CDC.

Hypothermia can have a harder-than-average impact upon people who are very tired and who suffer from heart or blood-flow problems, malnourishment or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Police estimate that Bouffard died sometime between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. because a plow truck driver passed the station wagon at about 2:30 a.m. Friday, seeing only the Subaru and some footprints in the snow, Moshier said.

Autopsies usually take several weeks to complete, Moshier said.

An autopsy report had not been filed with the state medical examiner’s office as of Monday afternoon, a spokesman said.

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