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Durango man’s death thought to be accidental, but cause remains unknown

Autopsy comes up empty, coroner says

An autopsy has failed to explain why an 18-year-old La Plata County man who was missing for two months was found dead last week less than a half mile from his home in the Rafter J subdivision, southwest of Durango.

Luke Starling walked away from the back deck of his home on Panorama Drive about 3:30 p.m. Feb. 6 and had not been seen since. His roommates later told investigators they checked on Starling that day and nothing appeared wrong.

Immediately after Starling went missing, authorities conducted a search in the area. Another search was conducted Feb. 29 along with the La Plata County Search and Rescue team, a K-9 unit and a drone.

Both searches turned up no evidence.

Starling’s body was found around 10 a.m. April 7 in a wooded area less than a half-mile from his home, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office said. Search and rescue crews assisted investigators to recover the body from steep terrain.

An autopsy last week, however, did not turn up a definitive cause of death, said La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith.

Investigators believe Starling went on a walk on a relatively undeveloped path behind his home when he veered off and stumbled about 100 yards down a heavily vegetated and rocky hillside, Smith said.

“He rolled quite a distance through bushes, trees and rocks,” she said.

An autopsy, however, did not find any physical trauma that would explain Starling’s death. And because his body had been out in the elements for so long, investigators can’t prove he died of hypothermia, Smith said.

Smith said investigators believe Starling either died from hypothermia or some alcohol-related circumstance. She said Starling was believed to be intoxicated, and a pending toxicology will be able to show his blood-alcohol content.

Toxicology results could take up to six weeks, Smith said. Investigators believe Starling’s death was accidental, she said. Starling was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans at the time.

Investigators say Starling had family in Arizona and California. He moved from Arizona to La Plata County, and was working at two local restaurants.

“It’s not like him, according to those that know him, to just walk away like this,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chris Burke said in a previous interview.

After seeing recent reports about Starling’s disappearance in the media, a part-time resident who lives in the area recalled receiving a Ring doorbell notification the same day Starling went missing.

The resident notified the Sheriff’s Office that the Ring doorbell captured video of Starling, which helped investigators know the direction Starling traveled after leaving his home.

“Our deputies and investigators traveled to the same location this homeowner saw on his Ring notification and then came upon the deceased,” Burke said last week.


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