CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - A 35-year-old Pennsylvania woman whose body was found along the muddy banks of the Sea Isle City Marina in February died accidentally, authorities said Thursday.
Tracy Hottenstein, of Conshohocken, Pa., died of hypothermia from exposure and acute alcohol intoxication, according to Dr. Charles Siebert Jr. of the Southern Regional Medical Examiner's Office.
But Hottenstein's death remains a mystery.
No witnesses have come forward to explain why she was at the dark marina or how she apparently fell into the bay, Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor said.
Authorities know nothing about her whereabouts for almost six hours on the morning of Feb. 15 - from when she left the Ocean Drive Bar and Restaurant on Landis Avenue at 2:15 a.m. to when her body was discovered a half-mile away at 7:50 a.m.
"She left the bar. It's questionable whether she left with somebody or not," Taylor said.
The woman left her cell phone, purse and vest at the bar.
Siebert said Hottenstein had three fractured ribs, which indicated she fell, as well as cuts and bruises to her upper and lower extremities.
The blond pharmaceuticals sales rep was found fully dressed, but her clothes were wet.
Investigators later recovered one of her boots and her hat from the bay. Another boot and her scarf are missing.
Authorities believe she somehow ended up in the water near the marina, got out of the bay and walked in her socks before falling to the ground.
Siebert would not release Hottenstein's blood-alcohol content but said it was higher than .08, the legal limit to drive in New Jersey.
Her intoxication likely hastened her death. Alcohol reverses some of the body's built-in warming mechanisms, such as shivering, Siebert said.
Taylor added there is no evidence that Hottenstein was the victim of a sexual assault.
Hottenstein was in town for the city's annual Polar Bear Plunge on Feb. 14, but she was not involved in the plunge.
Hottenstein's parents, Charles and Betty Hottenstein, have many unanswered questions and hope a witness will come forward, their attorney, Lynanne B. Wescott, said Thursday.
"With that number of people there, there's bound to have been somebody that saw something. A nice looking, early 30s blonde doesn't just wander off to a deserted marina. Maybe somebody was walking their dog, maybe someone was out on the dock," she said.
Air temperatures dipped a degree below freezing that morning. Gusts of wind created a wind chill of 21 degrees.
"The not knowing is excruciating. Just from a human standpoint, to hear that a child in essence froze to death, any parent would have wanted to be there to rescue them, to rescue that child," Wescott said. "If somebody else was there and did not rescue her, or could have been there? Those are the things that really haunt them."
Taylor said the death remains under investigation, and officials want the public's help in tracing Hottenstein's final hours. Authorities hope the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will bring some of the same visitors to the city who attended the Polar Bear Plunge in February.
Meanwhile, Wescott sent Sea Isle City a notice of intent to sue, which the City Clerk's Office received Thursday.
The two-page tort claim notice, which identifies losses in excess of $10 million, says the city's marina is unsafe, in disrepair and its docks are unstable.
The notice implies Hottenstein fell from unsafe docks, although investigators have not established that.
The notice also says Sea Isle City police did not patrol that area and that Hottenstein could have lived if she were found earlier.
But the parents also want the city to better control public drinking and activities during the Polar Bear Plunge as well as take better public safety precautions at the marina.
Sea Isle City Solicitor Paul Baldini could not be reached Thursday. City Police Chief Thomas D'Intino and Prosecutor Taylor declined to comment on the notice.
The city's annual Polar Bear Plunge brings thousands to Sea Isle City during President's Day weekend.
Hottenstein was last seen on security video leaving the Ocean Drive.
Investigators have searched other public and private surveillance cameras to no avail.
Sea Isle City recently installed about 20 security cameras, but the cameras were trained mostly on basketball courts, playgrounds and the oceanfront Promenade, not the marina where her body was found.
Authorities ask anyone with information or who may have seen Hottenstein the morning of Feb. 15 to call the Prosecutor's Office at 609-465-1135 or Sea Isle City police at 609-263-4311.
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