Autopsy Shows Nate Johnson Died of Accidental Overdose

April 5, 2019

The Hamilton County (Tenn.) Medical Examiner's office found that Nate Johnson, the young Dade man found dead in January near the Tennessee Welcome Center off I-24, died of an overdose of fentanyl and methamphetamine.


The medical report, signed by Dr. Steven Cogswell on Feb. 13, declared the death an accident. Dr. Cogswell had conducted an investigation into young Johnson's death after his body was found in the woods 120 feet south of the welcome center's sidewalk on Jan. 26. 


That was a Saturday, and a Dade County search organized by Johnson's family and friends for that morning was canceled at the news. Johnson, 28, had been missing for over two weeks. 


The coroner did not specify how long Johnson had been dead when his body was found. "When a person is not in a hospital setting, it can be difficult to determine exactly when his heart stopped," emailed Sherri Vaughn of the medical examiner's office, questioned on that point. The cold January weather had probably been a factor in keeping the remains in good condition, she said. 


She said there had been very little decomposition, she said, but that rigor mortis was detected. "In all probability, a day or two," she concluded.


The Chattanooga Police Department, consulted earlier, had referred The Planet's inquiries to the medical examiner's office, but had specified it had found no reason to believe that anyone else had had a hand in Johnson's death. 


An interesting point turned up by the autopsy was that the Trenton resident turned 28 during his missing period--his birthday was Jan. 21.


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine, and like other synthetic opioids blamed for a disproportionate number of overdose deaths--28,466 in 2017 in the United States, according to the Kaiser Foundation. 

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