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Salt Lake City cops await autopsy in suspicious park pond death

Published February 5, 2013 2:45 pm

Suspicious • No evidence of foul play in Kansas man's death, but questions loom about subfreezing pond outing.
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Police are awaiting results of an autopsy to determine the cause of death for a 38-year-old man found lifeless in a park pond in southeast Salt Lake City.

However, detectives — noting officers also found another wet, intoxicated 35-year-old man at Fairmont Park Monday night near the pond — said Tuesday they are continuing to investigate the death as suspicious in nature.

On Tuesday, police identified the dead man as James D. Panovich, of Kansas.

Authorities said Panovich was believed to have moved recently to Utah and has no local address.

The body was found about 9 p.m. Monday by several people who had come to the Sugar House area park at 1040 E. Sugarmont Drive (2225 South) to feed ducks in the pond. Firefighters retrieved the body, which was about 10 feet from shore, an hour later.

The remains were then turned over to the State Medical Examiner's Office.

Police did not know how long the body was in the pond, but it did not appear badly decomposed. "We will be relying heavily on the autopsy results to determine how this individual died," Josephson said.

Police believe the second man likely was acquainted with the victim, but detectives were awaiting results of questioning to confirm that. The man had been taken to the hospital overnight to be treated for exposure.

Police Sgt. Shawn Josephson said that while the death still was considered suspicious, detectives had no indication it was a homicide.

"We are treating it as suspicious, starting with the fact that we had people in the water outside in these kinds of [subfreezing] temperatures. That is not normal behavior," Josephson said. "But we are not calling it a homicide. We have no indication, at this point, of foul play."

remims@sltrib.com