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Eveleth student's mother says autopsy leaves questions

Dan Zamlen

Sally Zamlen said that only a mother who has lost a son would understand why she continues to search for answers in the death of her 18-year-old son, Daniel.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office ruled in June that Daniel -- a University of St. Thomas freshman from Eveleth -- died as a result of an accidental freshwater drowning after leaving a St. Paul party early April 5. His body was discovered in the Mississippi River by a worker at the Ford Motor Co. plant almost a month later, on May 1.

The St. Paul Police Department announced Monday that the investigation into the death of Zamlen is complete and inactive, barring any new evidence or information.

Sally Zamlen doesn't consider the case closed.

She points to a second autopsy her family had performed by St. Louis County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Uncini of Hibbing. In his case summary, Uncini wrote that Zamlen had no injuries to suggest a fall down a rocky or brush-filled slope.

"It is likely he drowned, but I feel the manner of death cannot be determined and requires more police investigation and/or access to existing police records,'' Uncini wrote.

Zamlen said on Tuesday that she was going through a 400-page police report on her son's death. "There are facts that the police didn't look at; there are questions that are legitimate,'' she said. "The police not responding to the party house, the police not allowing anyone to look on that bluff immediately, the police failing to deal with my son's phone records in a fair amount of time, the Ramsay County coroner not doing all the possible requests that I requested.''

Police reports indicate that Zamlen had been drinking before he went to a house party and brought alcohol with him. The reports say Zamlen drank from a keg of beer at the party.

A toxicological screening accompanying Uncini's report indicate the presence of Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid [GHB] in Zamlen's body. GHB is naturally produced in the human body's cells, but it is also used as an intoxicant. When combined with alcohol, it can lead to dizziness, loss of muscle control and loss of consciousness. Uncini wrote that it couldn't be excluded that Zamlen ingested GHB before dying. The victim was a diabetic.

Sally Zamlen said she's spent the past 10 months reading and re-reading the statements of her son's friends and acquaintances. She's searched the Internet seeking information on forensic pathology and stages of decomposition in a drowning victim.

She's offended that two female acquaintances of her son told police that he was suicidal because he thought he was gay and he told them he was going to kill himself that night. "My son can't dispute that -- he's dead,'' she said and added that there is no evidence that her son even talked to the women who made the claim.

"I think he got in a vehicle and I personally believe he went into a diabetic coma, and whoever was with him thought he was dead and panicked,'' she said. "That's been my feeling since April 5.

"I'm going to continue to go through this paperwork and continue to get more opinions and continue to gather more information,'' she said.