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Man drinks himself to death; body found two months later

Elwood Berntson, shown in October 1991. - Courtesy photo
Elwood Berntson, shown in October 1991.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

Elwood Berntson Jr. died drunk and alone.

A chronic alcoholic, Berntson, 48, drank himself to death in his Federal Way home. The King County Medical Examiner’s office said the death occurred around Dec. 30, 2007. But they can’t be sure. No one found the body until March 1.

Bernston grew up in Federal Way with 12 brothers and sisters in a small house off of 1st Avenue South near Lake Grove Elementary. He graduated from Federal Way High School in 1978. Those who were close to him called him Snookey.

No one missed Berntson for two months after he died. He had long ago quit his job as a machinist at Kenworth in Seattle. He frequently bickered with his 12 brothers and sisters and was at times cut off from his family.

“All he wanted to do was drink, and he didn’t really come to family things,” said Jacky Elston, Berntson’s younger sister.

He was a regular at the Laundromat Tavern in Federal Way, now called the Brickyard Pub, but he drank there less and less frequently because alcohol was cheaper to drink at home.

Berntson hadn’t seen his 20-year-old daughter Amanda, who lives in Reno, Nev., for nearly a year, Elston said.

Authorities were finally alerted that something was wrong when neighbors noticed papers piling up at Berntson’s house.

“I noticed there was a rolled up piece of paper by his door,” said Jessica Antrim, who lives across the street.

Antrim sent her husband over to investigate. The paper was a shut-off notice from the water company from several weeks prior. There were newspapers piled up in the back of Berntson’s truck. And inside the mailbox was a notice that said “vacant.”

A peek inside the windows revealed flies buzzing around and an open freezer door.

Antrim called the police to do a welfare check. Berntson was found dead inside.

The medical examiner listed the cause of death as chronic ethanolism, or alcohol abuse.

“I knew he was a chronic alcoholic,” said Katie Reece, who lived next door. “It’s a terrible disease.”

Reece said she recalled hearing Berntson vomiting outdoors in the wee hours of each morning before he left for work. Years ago, Reece called the police to report Berntson driving his 4-year-old daughter around while he was drunk.

Recently, she said she saw Berntson walking around outside with shaky legs and wobbling knees. “He looked like he was 80,” she said.

“He was lonely and an alcoholic and he didn’t take care of himself,” Elston said.

Most of Berntson’s remaining siblings still live in Federal Way, Elston said. They declined to be interviewed by The Mirror.

“It is a very sad thing what has happened,” Elston said. “It depends on who you talk to; people can’t believe how does something like that happen to a person.”

Reece said what happened to Berntson was a learning experience for her and her neighbors.

“This is a reminder for all of us,” she said. “Be aware of our elderly neighbors and to watch out for our sick neighbors.”

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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OBITUARY:

Elwood Alexander (Snookey) Berntson Jr. died Dec. 30, 2007, at age 48.

He was born Dec. 15, 1959, in Stanley, N.D., and moved to Federal Way with his family in 1965. He enjoyed playing soccer, baseball, basketball and tennis. He graduated from Federal Way High School in 1978. He worked as a cook at local restaurants until joining the Kenworth truck manufacturing company as a mechanic.

He was preceded in death by his parents Gladys Luella (Rud) and Elwood Alexander Bernston Sr. and brother Benjamin Berntson. He is survived by daughter Amanda Rene’ Berntson; brothers Lewis Berntson, George Crocker, Bill Crocker and Art Crocker; and sisters Jane Berntson, Debby Larson, Jacky Elston, Nancy Beuhler, Mary Ducolon and Phyllis McDaniel.

The family held a private memorial service earlier this month.

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