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Maine Medical Examiner Reverses Alcoholism Finding In Appalachian Trail Hiker's Death

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Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife via BDN

Maine’s medical examiner on Friday reversed a finding that alcoholism contributed to the death of a Massachusetts hiker on the Appalachian Trail in western Maine, less than a week after a Bangor Daily News article cast doubt on it.

The office of Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s chief medical examiner, issued an updated autopsy report to the widow of 63-year-old Jeff Aylward, who was found dead in his tent near Rangeley by the Maine Warden Service in August after he had not contacted family for 13 days.

Flomenbaum’s office originally attributed the death to a heart condition spurred by diabetes and cited “acute and chronic alcoholism” as a contributing factor, basing that on two types of alcohol in blood taken from Aylward’s chest cavity. But no alcohol was found at the scene, and two experts told the BDN that the alcohol was likely produced by the decay of his body.

Ann Aylward, Jeff’s wife, said he stopped drinking after his diabetes diagnosis roughly 15 years ago. Since the summer, she had been lobbying Flomenbaum’s office to remove the finding. It did in an updated report issued to Ann Aylward on Friday afternoon.

“I’m just so glad that I can put Jeff to rest and put him to rest in the true light of who he is and what he represented to this town and what he did for all people,” she said. “He was a good man. He was a loving father.”

In an update to the report, Flomenbaum said while Aylward did not contact his family for 13 days, the changes in his body were consistent with someone who had been dead for between three and seven days. He noted that while both types of alcohol can be caused by decay, that time interval and the high amounts “raised doubt” that decay was the only reason for their presence.

His office then struck the alcoholism finding from the autopsy record. It now attributes the alcohol to “moderate postmortem putrefaction” — a term for a body’s decay after death.

The Aylward case is being reviewed by the office of Attorney General Aaron Frey after Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, cited the BDN’s reporting on the autopsy in a Monday letter in which he added the case to a complaint against Flomenbaum that he originally filed in March.

Evangelos’ complaint came after a February mistrial was declared in the case of Noah Gaston, a Windham man accused of killing his wife, Alicia Gaston, because Flomenbaum changed his description of the trajectory of the fatal shotgun pellets. Noah Gaston was convicted of murder on Thursday after another trial.

The original complaint into Flomenbaum’s credibility was motivated by a 2016 letter from a Connecticut prosecutor to Gov. Janet Mills when she served as attorney general, alerting her to testimony that Flomenbaum gave as an expert witness in a child manslaughter case there that a judge deemed not credible.

This story appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.