Medical Examiner investigates possible cold-weather death

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office has released its report regarding a possible cold-weather death that occurred on Monday, February 17th.

60-year-old Steven Rische, who - according to the Medical Examiner's report and friends, has a history of alcoholism, was found dead Monday in the yard of a friend's residence on W. Greenfield Ave. in Milwaukee.

The Medical Examiner's report says that when Milwaukee Fire Department personnel arrived on the scene just before 11:00 a.m. - Rische was already deceased.

The report says discharge paperwork from St. Francis Hospital, dated February 14th was found on Rische's person at the scene.

The report says Rische was discovered in the backyard of his friend's residence, against the gate of a wooden fence at the north end of a paved walkway. He was observed in a sitting position, cross legged, with his left arm extended above and over his head. His left arm appeared to be stuck on the edges of the chain link fencing.

The weather conditions at the time were cold (25 degrees) with snow falling. An investigator observed at least three to four inches of snow accumulation on Rische.

The Medical Examiner's report indicates Rische was observed in the same position in the same spot the day before.

The report says Rische was wearing a leather jacket, numerous layers of shirts, jeans and tennis shoes. His body was found to be frozen when the Medical Examiner arrived.

A bag next to Rische contained the hospital discharge paperwork, prescriptions, an apple, and a can of beer.

The Medical Examiner's report says 10 pills of Zolpidem (Ambien) were missing from a prescription filled on February 14th - with instructions to take one tablet once a day in the evening as needed -- and 13 extra Trazodone (anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication) in a prescription bottle.

A case manager reported to the Medical Examiner that Rische has a history of gastrointestinal issues, seizures and alcoholism.

He was described by friends as alcohol dependent - and friends said he had recently relapsed after a sustained period of sobriety.

The owner of the property where Rische's body was found is a friend of Rische's -- and that man spoke with the Medical Examiner.

That man says he and Rische had been roommates, but said Rische had recently moved out from a treatment facility and was homeless -- and the two had agreed Rische could move back in with this man.

The man told the Medical Examiner he had last seen Rische on Friday, February 14th -- and said Rische appeared to have relapsed and was intoxicated. The man said 911 was called that night, and Rische was walked over to an MFD station for medical attention, and he was then taken to St. Francis Hospital.

The man told the Medical Examiner Rische was not to be at his residence without him being present, as Rische had a history of threatening MFD paramedics with knives.

The man says Rische had a history of police involvement and incarceration related to his alcoholism.

The man told the Medical Examiner Rische has a history of taking more medications than prescribed - specifically, his sleeping pills.

When asked why Rische may have been found where he was found, the man told the Medical Examiner Rische may have been attempting to enter the gate, despite it being locked and frozen - saying he often forgot that when intoxicated.

The man told the Medical Examiner he isn't sure why neighbors had not called 911 when observing Rische outside the day before - saying he, himself had just arrived back home after being out of town all weekend.

A case manager with the Hope House told the Medical Examiner she had been working with Rische for the past three years, and said he had been living at the House of Vision treatment facility for three to four months, and had been sober for over 100 days - until last week, when he relapsed and moved out of the facility.

The case manager told the Medical Examiner she had arranged for Rische to obtain inpatient treatment for alcoholism at St. Luke's South Shore - where he remained until his discharge on Friday, February 14th.