NJ shore death ruled accidental

May 14, 2009 3:47:22 PM PDT
Authorities say a Pennsylvania woman whose body was found in a bay in Sea Isle City in February died accidentally from hypothermia and acute intoxication. Tracy Hottenstein of Conshohocken was visiting the Jersey shore for the Polar Bear Plunge.

She was last seen leaving the Ocean Drive Bar & Restaurant early on Sunday morning. Hottenstein was even picked up by surveillance video at 2:15 a.m.

"The video kind of stops around 2:15 with her heading southbound on Landis Avenue, I believe it was," said prosecutor Robert Taylor.

Hottenstein left the bar without her coat, her purse and her cell phone.

Somehow she took a wrong turn heading to a friend's house and ended up falling in the bay.

The evidence shows she managed to get back on shore where she collapsed.

The 35-year-old's body was found about six hours after she was last seen.

"The cause of death, as we said, was hypothermia due to exposure and complicated because of acute ethanol exposure. It was listed as an accident," said medical examiner Dr. Charles Siebert.

It was 31 degrees out that February morning.

The medical examibner found no evidence of a sexual assault.

Hottenstein had several broken ribs and bruises on her body, indicating a hard fall.

Where and how she fell into the water remains a mystery.

There's a municpal pier and some private docks near the muddy bank where her body was found.

Police say there's evidence she wandered around in her stocking feet in the mud, but can't tell where she got out of the water.

Police have interviewed a number of witnesses, including a man who was seen with Tracy that night, and nothing points to foul play.

But, they can't close the book unless they find someone who might have seen her after she left the bar.

"The investigation is ongoing because we have a gap in time. We don't have the answers to everything that occured in that gap of time," said Taylor.

The police are hoping to hear from anyone who might have seen Tracy.

In the meantime her parents have hired a lawyer who's put Sea Isle City on notice that they reserve the right to file a lawsuit over safety at the pier and a lack of police patrols.

The city has no comment.

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