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Examination confirms cause of death for Durango man who went missing

18-year-old resident died of hypothermia

A La Plata County man who went missing for two months before being found dead down a steep hillside died of hypothermia, according to the La Plata County Coroner’s Office.

The cause of Luke Starling’s death was initially unclear after an autopsy in April. But further examination determined the 18-year-old man suffered from exposure to the cold.

Starling walked away from the back deck of his home Feb. 6 on Panorama Drive, just days before his 19th birthday. Law enforcement and La Plata County Search and Rescue teams conducted searches but were unsuccessful locating the teenager.

The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office later asked for the public’s help in solving Starling’s disappearance. A neighbor realized he had a video from his Ring doorbell camera that captured an image of Starling walking past the house, which helped deputies identify which direction Starling was traveling after leaving his home.

He was missing for two months before his remains were found on steep terrain about a half mile from a residence in the Rafter J subdivision southwest of Durango.

An autopsy conducted in April failed to definitively pinpoint the cause of Starling’s death, said Coroner Jann Smith in a previous interview.

At the time, investigators believed Starling went on a walk and veered off an undeveloped path, stumbling down a heavily vegetated, rocky hillside. They believed he either died from hypothermia or an alcohol-related circumstance.

The autopsy, however, did not find any physical trauma that would explain Starling’s death, so investigators waited for toxicology results, which take up to six weeks, to make the final determination.

Those results, released in late May, showed that Starling’s blood-alcohol content was 0.165%, about twice Colorado’s legal driving limit of 0.08%.

“Basically, he had been drinking a little bit, he fell and bumped his head and died of hypothermia,” Smith said.

The death was officially ruled an accident and the official cause of death was listed as hypothermia.

He also had 33 nanograms of delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis, per milliliter of blood. In Colorado, a level of 5 nanograms per milliliter can result in a DUI.


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