Body ID’d as missing man

TRAVERSE CITY — Snow fell in sporadic showers and temperatures hovered near zero when Jeremy Leroy Zerbe stepped outside Munson Healthcare’s behavioral health services building to smoke a cigarette.

He never came back from the cold that late-February night.

A two-month search by Zerbe’s family and Traverse City police ended Monday afternoon when a woman spotted his body floating under a swim platform in the marina at Clinch Park.

Traverse City Police Capt. Mike Ayling said medical examiners in Grand Rapids confirmed today that the body belonged to Zerbe, 35, based on his distinctive tattoos.

“We think he entered the water probably sometime around the day he disappeared after he walked away from Munson,” he said.

Ayling said there were no signs of foul play and examiners ruled the death as accidental cold water drowning. He said detectives aren’t ruling out suicide.

Zerbe, a Petoskey-area man, had struggled with depression. He didn’t have his medication and he’d left his wallet near a hospital vending machine when he disappeared late Feb. 25.

Munson spokesman Ian Jones said he couldn’t confirm or deny Zerbe’s patient status, citing privacy laws, but he called the death “tragic.” He said patients in outpatient and most inpatient areas “aren’t locked down.”

“Our role is to create a safe place to create healing for patients,” Jones said.

Ayling said investigators still don’t know where or how Zerbe entered the water. Ayling said he’s still trying to determine when the bay froze to the point a person could walk onto it.

Sarah U’Ren, program director at the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, said the bay froze over on Feb. 3 in a solid sheet from the south shoreline to Power Island. She said watershed center officials declared the bay “ice out” on April 24.

“Ice out is when most of the ice is out of the bay,” she said. “Most of what’s left is clumps that float from shore to shore.”

Ayling believes Zerbe’s mostly-unclothed body and the wooden swim platform likely floated separately in the bay’s waters before strong easterly winds blew them together near the marina’s breakwall.

He said detectives still haven’t found Zerbe’s clothes, which could provide more clues. Zerbe wore a gray plaid coat, black track pants and brown tennis shoes when he walked away from the hospital.

Zerbe’s mother Grace Zerbe spoke with a Record-Eagle reporter Monday morning hours before authorities plucked her son’s body from the water. She described her son as a friendly person who’d make a good impression.

But she and other family members found no one in Traverse City and its homeless shelters who had seen him since he left the hospital.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” she said. “I want him to call home or come home.”

Zerbe family members had planned to search Traverse City again on Saturday. Grace Zerbe declined additional comment when reached today.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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