Man found dead outside Iowa City recreation center; foul play not suspected

ER physician warns of hypothermia risks with record cold

The Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center in Iowa City. (2007 file photo)

IOWA CITY — Police are investigating the death of an Iowa City man who was found Tuesday afternoon in the snow outside the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center — only about a block from his home.

Officers were called to the recreation center at 220 S. Gilbert St. at 2 p.m. Tuesday for a death investigation. Responding officers found the man in the snow in a fenced-in garden area of the center, which is closed until Sunday for renovations.

Authorities identified the man as Paul J. Biagas, 24, of Iowa City. While foul play is not suspected in Biagas’ death, police and the Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office are investigating. An autopsy will be conducted as part of the investigation.

Lt. Zach Diersen, head of investigations for the police department, said it appeared that Biagas was heading home — perhaps on New Year’s Eve of New Year’s Day — when the death occurred.

“I don’t think he was appropriately dressed for the weather,” Diersen said — but that was not too unusual with some of the others officers saw downtown, either.

With record low temperatures hitting Eastern Iowa this week, medical professionals warn body heat can be lost quickly if you’re not bundled up or if you’ve been drinking alcohol.

“When you drink alcohol, you feel warmer,” said Dr. Hans House, a University of Iowa professor of emergency medicine and Emergency Department physician at UI Hospitals and Clinics. “Alcohol causes dilation of blood vessels, which is the opposite of what you want. It makes you lose heat even faster.”

When body temperature lowers dramatically, it can reduce blood flow to the heart and brain, causing sleepiness and disorientation, House said. In these situations, sitting or lying down outside can be dangerous.

“If you’re in direct contact with a frozen surface your body heat can be sucked out directly,” House said. “The worst case scenario is when you’re not property clothed and fall asleep in a snowbank.”