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Death at party re-examined

FINDLAY - Wilma Miller thought there must have been a terrible accident when police knocked on her door last month to say her son Mark was dead.

Mr. Miller, 37, was drinking with friends to celebrate his birthday Dec. 18 when he died at a Defiance Avenue home he shared with friends.

“I didn't know what happened, but I had it in my mind that it might've been an accident, that something might've been wrong,” Mrs. Miller of North Baltimore said yesterday. “I knew he wouldn't have just died like that.”

Mr. Miller's death has since been ruled a homicide, and the county prosecutor plans to present the case to a Hancock County grand jury for possible criminal charges.

Dr. Leroy Schroeder, the county coroner, could not be reached for comment, but the death certificate he signed lists the cause of death as “mechanical asphyxia” and gives acute alcohol intoxication as a significant contributing condition. Mr. Miller “was being restrained” when the fatal injury occurred, the certificate states.

Findlay police Lt. Chuck Wilson said four or five people were at the house for a small birthday party when Mr. Miller died. Police received a 911 call just before 8 p.m. reporting that Mr. Miller had stopped breathing.

Officers found him unconscious, and investigators became suspicious when they noticed bruises on his body, Lieutenant Wilson said. He declined to discuss how Mr. Miller was killed.

“The circumstances surrounding the asphyxiation are a matter for the grand jury to decide,” Lieutenant Wilson said, adding that the case probably would be presented within the next month. “The county prosecutor has said he'll be taking the case to the grand jury to let them decide if the circumstances rise to the level of an indictment.”

Mrs. Miller said she did not know the people her son had been living with or how long he had been there. “He was living at this place, and he was helping them pay their bills. I don't know what went wrong,” she said.

Mrs. Miller said she did not know her son to be a heavy drinker, but he enjoyed having drinks with friends when the occasion arose. Divorced, Mr. Miller had been working as a custodian at a Findlay nursing home.

“He would do most anything - go out and shovel snow for people,” she said. “He always helped anybody.”

Mrs. Miller said her son called her occasionally to say he was doing OK and not to worry, though she had not seen him in nearly two years. She said he called the morning he died but said little.

“I said, `Mark, I know it's you.' I said, `Mark, can't you talk to me?' and I told him happy birthday,” Mrs. Miller said. “Then he hung up. I don't know what it was, then here come the cops to my door, and I told them, `I just wished him a happy birthday this morning.' It sure was a shock.

“I just hope justice comes to this,” she said. “I hope something comes out of it, because I know it wasn't right.”

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