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Detectives identify drowning victim at Expo pond

CENTRAL POINT — A 40-year-old homeless man who police believe accidentally drowned in a Jackson County Fairgrounds and Exposition Park pond last week has been identified.

A jogger reported seeing the partially submerged body of James Leroy Carter in a large pond behind the Lithia Amphitheater on Friday morning.

Jackson County sheriff's detectives investigated the area and suspect alcohol, not foul play, was involved after finding several cans of malt liquor near a campsite where Carter was living.

An autopsy, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, will help detectives determine when Carter died. The results of a toxicology report will be available in a few weeks, Jackson County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said.

Identifying Carter was made easier because of a two-year-old sheriff's department project in which deputies document transients they meet during sweeps of the Bear Creek Greenway, Fagan said.

"If not for these operations, we might still not know who we had found," Fagan said.

Since 2007, deputies have photographed transients living in camps along the Greenway and collected these images in a book.

The deputies make notes of personal markings such as scars, tattoos and piercings that could help them identify a transient who is found sick or dead.

"For this latest case, I returned to my office and pulled out the book and the first picture I saw was Mr. Carter," Fagan said.

Investigators were able to match four dots tattooed on Carter's left hand to a photograph in the book. According to the book, the last time the sheriff's deputies contacted Carter was in a camp near the pond in which he drowned, Fagan said.

They were then able to locate Carter's next of kin in Shady Cove to give them the news, Fagan said.

"By making contact with transients in this manner we are able to save a lot of stress and anxiety for these families," Fagan said. "It also cuts down on manpower costs for the department because it often takes a long time to identify someone with little to go on."

Fagan said Carter was wearing only a pair of cut-off jeans and shoes when he was pulled from the pond. He did not have a wallet or any form of identification.

"We will continue documenting the transients we find during the Greenway sweeps," Fagan said. "These people often have family who care about them and they need to know what befalls their relatives."

Reach Chris Conrad at 776-4471 cconrad@mailtribune.com.