Autopsies often say what police want them to say — Read the Register's series "Stabbed, beaten, burned & zapped," winner of the Associated Press best investigative reporting award.
Lee Naus was just 21 when he died. But how he died remains a mystery.
The Lindsey man’s body was discovered inside a garbage truck during the early morning of Oct. 1, 1999.
He was last seen alive sleeping outside Bud’s Tavern on West State Street, according to a Fremont police report, where a garbage truck driver was getting ready to empty a dumpster.
An autopsy performed by Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser determined Naus accidentally died as a result of being crushed to death inside the truck’s compactor.
But police never determined how Naus ended up in the dumpster.
At least three people contacted police and said there were witnesses who saw multiple people put Naus into the dumpster. One person who contacted police told them Naus’ death was drug-related.
There’s nothing in the police report to indicate whether detectives followed up on those leads. It does appear they interviewed one suspect, but that person’s information — name, age and address — is not listed in the report while the same information for about 20 others is included in it.
The information in the report about what they learned in that one interview is brief. The suspect told police he “had nothing to do with nor does he know what happened to Lee Naus.”
The report indicates he told detectives he was in Bud’s Tavern with Naus that day, and he also told them what his schedule was that day.
There’s no indication detectives verified any of the information he provided.
People did come forward with information, identifying at least two other potential suspects they believed might have also been involved.
One woman told detectives Naus fell asleep outside and the one suspect identified along with several others “toyed with Naus by placing him on top of a car and later into the dumpster.”
Another woman relayed information to detectives from her boyfriend of how several people “tossed Naus into the dumpster.”
But none of those leads appear to have been pursued in any fashion.
The lead investigators included then-Fremont police Detective Sean O’Connell and Fremont police Capt. Jim White. Other local law enforcement personnel who investigated the death included Richard Overmyer, Scott Rosenberger, Kenneth Buchele, Robert Schultz, Kevin Armbruster, Monte Huss, Samuel Derr, Michael Dohanos, James Reaster and Edward Garza.
The 100-page report, obtained by the Register through a public records request, does not include any information about what detectives determined as to how Naus ended up in the dumpster.
The Register has received numerous inquiries from the public about numerous past and current investigations by both the Fremont police and the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office that they contend were mishandled, including the Naus investigation.
White, who provided the case file on the Naus investigation, said he’d be glad to answer any questions reporters had after they reviewed it. He didn’t do that, however, when the Register sent him the questions, which ranged from how Naus ended up in the Dumpster to what conclusion detectives determined.
“I know nothing more than what the case file contains,” White wrote in an email. “I honestly don’t have anything else to reply or add to your questions.”
White referred the questions to Fremont police Chief Tim Wiersma. Wiersma referred the inquiry to law director Jim Melle, and Melle deferred to Fremont Mayor Jim Ellis.
“No one at the city is going to answer your questions regarding this matter,” Ellis wrote to the Register. “It is an old case, and so the prudent thing is to promptly provide you with the documentary record and have you refer to it.”
When it was suggested to Ellis that the report and his response both seemed similar to a “let sleeping dogs lie approach,” Ellis replied that the Register was threatening him.
“If you do have information about the case, you should immediately provide it to our police department,” Ellis wrote. “Your threat, withholding information for the purpose of furthering your own agenda and the nonsense you have made up about our motive for being prudent is further evidence of the need for prudence in dealing with your paper in matters of importance such as this.”
Both the Fremont police and the sheriff’s office have come under fire in recent years for failing to properly investigate suspicious deaths.
Sandusky County Sheriff’s deputies fatally shot Bryan Jones in July 2010 inside his family’s home.
“Having whitewashed the investigation (the Bureau of Criminal Identification agents) created a false sense that what they did was proper,” said Dennis Murray Sr., who is representing the Jones family in a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and Sandusky County.
Jones was alone in his family’s home passed out on a couch with a shotgun on his lap after he returned there drunk and frightened his parents. Sheriff’s deputies went inside the home 90 minutes after arriving there and used a flash-bang grenade to wake him up, shooting him dead from close range after he was jerked awake by the sound and light from the explosion.
The high-velocity ammunition they used blew off Jones’ arm when he was killed. An internal investigation that began immediately after his death was derailed by Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, after the initial results from it were critical of how deputies handled the incident.
A wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and Sandusky County is pending in federal court and likely will go to trial later this year.
Craig Burdine died just minutes after he was taken to the Sandusky County jail in August 2007 after he was arrested by Fremont police and brought there. The Burdine family contends a jail guard caused Craig Burdine’s death with a choke hold.
“He had suffered a fatal neck compression — strangulation — before the EMTs got there,” said Dr. Michael Baden, a well-known forensic pathologist who serves as the New York State police agency’s forensic pathologist.
Burdine suffocated, said Baden, who determined Burdine’s death to be a homicide.
Both the Fremont police and the sheriff’s office failed to conduct a criminal investigation after Burdine died, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. O’Connell did conduct a review of the incident, but he did not interview the officers or the guards, although he said he had “off the record” conversations with some of them, according to court documents.
The detective also said he never reviewed surveillance video from the jail of the incident because the sheriff’s office refused to provide it to him, or tell him why it couldn’t be provided.
Instead, O’Connell relied on written reports provided by the officers and the guards, all of which provided matching information about what they said occurred.
O’Connell has provided conflicting information about his review, calling it both a “thorough probe” of Burdine’s death but also saying in a deposition that his investigation was not focused on what happened inside the jail or how Burdine died.
O’Connell also has refused to respond to questions about the disparity in that contradictory information.
The sheriff’s office was faulted for the botched investigation into the March 2012 death of Jacob Limberios, which also was investigated by O’Connell. The detective also provided conflicting information about the investigation, saying at different times both that Jacob shot himself and later that another person who was with Jacob fired the weapon that killed the 19-year-old.
O’Connell also has refused to address those disparities.
The Limberios family waged a costly and protracted legal battle to get Jake’s death certificate corrected, asking that a competent investigation be conducted.
“If there had been a proper investigation in the first place, we would not be here,” Jacob’s mother Shannon Limberios said previously. “Pretend it was your child. Then tell me what you would do.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also conducted an investigation into the death of Jacob Limberios and determined the prior investigations of it by the sheriff’s office reached an inaccurate conclusion that he committed suicide.
DeWine said Limberios’ death certificate should be corrected to reflect his death was an accident, but Sandusky County coroner John Wukie has refused to change it. Wukie never conducted any investigation and did not go to the home where Jake was killed or talk with any witnesses.
Wukie also refused to order an autopsy. He and other Sandusky County officials refused to return calls from the Limberios family or answer any of their questions.
Some of the families involved in these three tragedies and others are banding together to fight for what they say are injustices in the way the law enforcement community in Sandusky County functions. They have met and have used the Justice for Jake & Ella Facebook page to post their concerns.
The page was started by supporters of the Limberios family, and it has grown into a movement with more than 19,000 followers.
The Register continues to review information it has received regarding these and other inquiries from the public about concerns they have with how criminal investigations were conducted in Sandusky County.
Questions without answers
Here is a copy of the email the Register sent to Fremont police Capt. Jim White regarding questions into the mysterious death of Lee Naus:
Again, thank you for the prompt response to our requests thus far regarding this incident.
We have some general questions after an initial review of the files you sent us:
1. The report indicates several people suggested that Lee Naus was placed inside the dumpster. But we cannot ascertain what detectives determined as to whether that actually occurred. Could you provide information as to the disposition of that information and where it might be located in the files you sent us?
2. Could you please review the report you sent us and advise us the names, ages and relationships to the victim of all individuals suggested as people who might have placed Naus’ body in the dumpster, and whether each individual was interviewed by detectives?
3. Did detectives determine which dumpster Naus’ body was in before it became compacted? The report suggests different locations.
4. Could you advise whether any Fremont police officers or any other local law enforcement officials were in attendance while the autopsy was being conducted? If so, what are the names of those officers/officials?
5. Could you please advise us as to exactly what was determined to have occurred? The autopsy report suggests he was crushed to death by the compactor. How did the deputy coroner determine that Naus was alive before he was crushed?
6. How did Naus’ body end up in the dumpster?
7. There is no indication as to the family’s reaction to the findings, or lack of findings, in this report. Could you advise, or do you recall, yourself or anyone from the department meeting with the family after the investigation was concluded? If so, could you advise their reaction.
8. Could you briefly summarize the conclusions reached by the Fremont Police Department?
9. Does the Fremont Police Department consider this investigation closed? Why or why not?
10. Are there any aspects, details or unresolved matters of this investigation that you are uncomfortable with regarding whatever conclusion was reached? If so, could you share those with me?