Toxicology results released for Steamboat resident Matthew Shelters
September 6, 2018
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:40 p.m.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Toxicology tests have been completed, but the family of 38-year-old Steamboat Springs resident Matthew Shelters still cannot have closure as the mystery surrounding his death continues.
"It's tough to bring closure to the family," Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar said Thursday after releasing the toxicology and autopsy reports. "They want to know what happened to their son."
Shelters was last seen leaving Back Door Grill on Oak Street in downtown Steamboat at 12:20 a.m. April 24. His body was discovered by Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski on July 4 along Soda Creek just outside city limits about a half-mile northeast of the restaurant.
Tests were done to see what substances Shelters had in his system. Caffeine and cocaine were found in tissue samples taken from Shelters' lung tissue, but the tests did not determine exact amounts because of how badly his body was decomposed due to exposure.
"The presence of a drug in someone's system doesn't take away from the character of a person who is a son, brother and friend," Steamboat Police Commander Annette Dopplick said.
Shelters' father John Shelters could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Michael Burson, a forensic pathologist from Loveland, wrote in the report that the official cause of death was undetermined.
“The presence of cocaine … suggests that acute cocaine intoxication may have been present at the time of his death," he wrote.
At a glance
A sun-shaped tattoo on his upper back was used to help identify Shelters.
Shelters was found to have broken ribs, but Burson believed this was caused by animals.
"This is speculation at this point, but he most likely fell down the hill and into the water," Scherar said.
The autopsy could not determine whether Shelters drowned.
"They can't tell," Scherar said. "That's why it's listed as undetermined."
It also is not clear whether Shelters may have died from being exposed to cold weather.
"It's a definite possibility that time of year," Scherar said.
Shelters' keys were located downstream from his body near a fence. Shelters' shoes and hat were found above his body on a hillside. He was found wearing a black shirt, boxer shorts and a black sock on his right foot. A black sweatshirt, a pair of jeans and another black sock were found near Shelters’ body.
"It appears that he was in the water at some point, as some of his personal belongings were found there," the report states.
Investigators did not find any drugs on Shelters.
The Steamboat Springs Police Department and the Routt County Sheriff's Office have conducted dozens of interviews and completed more than 100 supplemental reports related to the case.
There is still no indication of foul play, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The case is still considered open, but Scherar said investigators have interviewed everyone they needed to, and everyone has been cooperative.
He said the case may never be closed.
Shelters' cellphone and clothing have been sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
"We sent his clothing down there to be analyzed to make sure there was no other forensic evidence that would lead us in a direction we would need to investigate," Scherar said.
Shelters' DNA was sent to an independent lab to definitively determine the body belonged to Shelters.
"We want to make sure every base is covered before we have a complete report," Scherar said.
Investigators are still trying to piece together a timeline of what occurred between the time Shelters left the restaurant and ended up in the creek.
"That's something we're still trying to nail down," Scherar said.
Weeks of search efforts for Shelters were exhaustive. Police were even checking inside manholes.
Some have been critical of police for not doing more to find Shelters sooner because more information maybe could have been obtained with a more intact body.
Police had scheduled cadaver dogs to search for Shelters, but they were not needed because his body was found.
Dopplick said the dogs could not come earlier because they were at other incidents deemed a higher priority.
"Those are the types of competing interests for limited resources," Dopplick said.
With the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police were able to plot a 120-degree arc on a map of the downtown area, which indicated where Shelters' cellphone was last sending data to a cellphone tower between downtown and the mountain.
The location of Shelter's body was within the area of the arc, which is accurate to within one-tenth of a mile.
Despite that, it was nearly four months before someone not involved with search efforts discovered the body.
Shelters' friends, family and even those who did not know him were involved with search efforts.
They used a grid method to methodically do the search, and some sections were searched repeatedly.
Dopplick said the grid section where Shelters was found had been marked as searched.