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Chill may have taken life of homeless man

Cold weather gripping the region likely contributed to the death of a 58-year-old homeless man found wrapped in a light blanket near the railroad tracks in northwest Medford early Tuesday morning, Medford police said.

Kevin Anthony Ferris was found lying along the tracks about 100 yards north of Jackson Street by another homeless man who was looking for blankets, Medford police Detective Sgt. Mike Budreau said. The man contacted police at about 3:20 a.m. Tuesday, and Medford police and fire department crews responded.

The temperature was 16 degrees when Ferris was found, and investigators suspect that exposure played a role in his death.

"He was relatively lightly dressed for the cold and had a light blanket," Budreau said. "It's possible he succumbed to freezing temperatures."

A preliminary investigation with the help of Deputy Medical Examiner Randy Arnold of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office found no evidence of foul play. Dr. James Olson, a deputy state medical examiner, will conduct an examination and determine if an autopsy is warranted, officials said.

Budreau noted that local missions have space available for those needing shelter during this cold snap.

The Medford Gospel Mission temporarily waived rules about how many days a month a person can stay. Executive Director Bill Gourley said the mission has 76 beds and it can put out mats to accommodate more people, but that hadn't been necessary yet.

The First Presbyterian Church at 1615 Clark Ave., Ashland, is open overnight as an emergency shelter during the cold snap, too.

Budreau noted that shelters require people staying there to be sober for the safety of all. Some people can't meet that requirement.

"It could be a fatal choice to choose alcohol over a warm bed," he said.

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