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Clothing tests inconclusive in death of Fairbanks man found burned; police seek new witnesses

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Tests on the clothing of a man found burned to death in Fairbanks shed little new light on the case, and Alaska Native leaders and city officials are making a new plea for witnesses to come forward.

Fairbanks police continue to investigate the death of John Druck Wallis, 59, a homeless man found on fire on Jan. 1, 2013, in the lobby of the downtown post office, where he had been sleeping.

Workers from a nearby restaurant extinguished the fire, but Wallis died four day later at a Seattle hospital.

Clothing worn by Wallis had been sprayed with a fire extinguisher. The Alaska state crime lab would not accept the clothing for testing. But Fairbanks Mayor John Eberhart over the summer asked police to send the clothing to a private crime lab that specializes in fire investigations.

At a news conference Monday, Eberhart said Wallis' clothing contained a solvent, but the test results were inconclusive and of limited use, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1uMaqnb) reported. The chemical found is "commonly found in clothing," Assistant Fire Chief Ernie Misewicz said.

"Through time, we get substances on our clothing that normal washing doesn't get rid of," he said. "The information from the lab was such that they found some material. But through the investigation there's no way to tell when it got onto the clothing and how it actually contributed to the fire."

Investigators were told a man with dark clothing had sat next to Wallis. They are hoping someone will come forward who visited the post office the day Wallis' clothes caught on fire.

Darlene Herbert, a cousin of Wallis, urged police to speak to homeless people in Fairbanks about the case. Speculation, she said, focused on one person.

Fairbanks Native Association President Steve Ginnis said he grew up with Wallis in Fort Yukon.

"I'm a little disappointed that we don't have news today, basically an update," he said. "I think there are people out there who know about this but are afraid to talk."


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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