Police no longer have reason to suspect an Ashland woman who was found unconscious and hypothermic on Clear Creek Drive on New Year's Day was abducted and sexually assaulted, the police chief said today.

Detectives believe the woman was partially naked and appeared badly beaten as a result of extreme hypothermia, which can lead victims to remove their clothes and can cause their skin to become blue and puffy, Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said.

None of the evidence submitted to the Department of State Police Forensic Laboratory and returned to Ashland police late last week suggests that the woman had been sexually assaulted, he said.

The woman had been drinking but did not appear to be highly intoxicated when she left a party in the hills above downtown at 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, partygoers told police. Officers believe the woman began walking home and, at some point, became hypothermic and disoriented, leading her to eventually pass out on Clear Creek Drive, Holderness said.

Police have been hesitant to release information about the victim, but say she is approximately 30 years old and remembers little about what occurred between the time she left the party and woke up in the hospital more than a day later.

A passer-by discovered the woman at noon on Jan. 1 and called 9-1-1. According to police reports, the victim was lying on the sidewalk at the dead-end portion of Clear Creek Drive, off North Mountain Avenue, a semi-rural area near railroad tracks and a construction project.

The woman appeared near death when officials arrived on the scene, police said.

About two weeks after the incident, the victim began to remember bits of what transpired after she left the party, Holderness said. It's not unusual for people to experience memory lapses following hypothermia, he said.

“She doesn't believe she was sexually assaulted,” he said. “She does remember struggling, but she thinks she was alone, and that's consistent with hypothermia, which causes disorientation and sometimes unusual behaviors.”

Temperatures were hovering around 34 degrees at the time the woman was found, but they had plunged lower during the rainy night before. The woman, who had recently moved to Ashland, had been wearing a jacket and pants, Holderness said.

“Obviously they were not warm enough,” he said. “She wasn't dressed appropriately for cold weather.”

- Ashland Daily Tidings