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Fire reveals new clues

A burned-out van found abandoned in the woods has added to the trail of clues investigators must piece together in Monday's fire and death at a Table Rock Road print shop.

Investigators from numerous fire and police agencies combed through the scorched rubble of the shop Tuesday, looking for evidence. They also seized the van for further examination, sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said.

Tuesday morning the Jackson County Sheriff's Department recovered a gray 1997 Plymouth van that belonged to Roger Johansen. Johansen lived and worked at 6608 Table Rock Road in a shop that was destroyed by fire Monday morning. A body was found at the scene of the fire and Johansen's van was missing.

A caller notified the sheriff's department of a suspicious vehicle seen on the West Fork of Foots Creek Road and a deputy found the blackened van in the woods south of Rogue River.

Vans, trucks and tents where forensic experts worked ringed the charred shell of Johansen's Central Point shop Tuesday. An autopsy to confirm the identity of the body, as well as the cause of death, is set for today.

Fire departments from the Illinois Valley to Ashland contributed resources to help uncover the cause of Monday's fire, said Charlie Chase, a deputy state fire marshal based in Central Point.

But first, they had to let police gather evidence from the crime scene, he explained.

The Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit has been activated to handle the case. Investigators had a search warrant to collect evidence in the death and the fire, Fagan said.

Then fire investigators from Jackson County Fire District No. 3, Medford Fire Department and the state fire marshal's offices here and in Douglas County moved in to look for the cause of the fire, Chase said.

They dug through rubble with shovels big and small, shaking the blackened debris through sieves to make sure no evidence slipped through as they shifted collapsed walls and roof remnants to reach the floor. They documented fire damage with photos and created maps of the flames' path based on how badly furnishings and flooring were burned.

The Medford Fire Department brought a chemical "sniffer" that can detect traces of ignitable liquids.

"This being a print shop, we have lots of solvents and stuff in there," Chase said.

Oregon State Police provided laser-based surveying equipment to make precise measurements on the locations of evidence found in the ruins of the shop where Johansen had operated Budget X-Press with printing presses inherited from his father.

Sheriff Mike Winters is expected to release some details of the investigation today. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the sheriff's department at 774-6800.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

John Amish, left, of the Oregon State Forensics Lab, and Charlie Chase, Deputy State Fire Marshall discuss the area where the body was found at Budget X-Press, a Central Point printing business that burned Monday morning. Jim Craven 12/11/2007 - Jim Craven