Human remains found in the wreckage of a Kotzebue restaurant destroyed by fire earlier this month have been sent to the state medical examiner’s office for identification.
The Bayside Restaurant caught fire during a snow storm early on the morning of Nov. 5 and firefighters struggled to battle the blaze in winds up to 54 mph. The building was encased in ice afterward and a small excavator was used to search the rubble. Kotzebue police confirmed Wednesday that human remains had been found but deferred all other questions to city attorney Joe Evans.
The restaurant owner’s family hired a private contractor to search the scene because the city’s equipment was too large and might have damaged any evidence that remained, Evans said Thursday when reached at his office in Bremerton, Washington. Evans said he wouldn’t speculate on the identity of the remains and declined to discuss the matter further.
A GoFundMe page set up for the fire victims said the restaurant’s owner was last seen running into the burning building to save a tenant and an employee. The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development business license database lists Jung Gue Lee as the owner of Bayside Restaurant.
According to an article posted Thursday morning on the Arctic Sounder website, 52-year-old Jung Lee of Kotzebue went missing the night of the fire and was still missing as of Wednesday. When the News-Miner contacted Kotzebue police Thursday afternoon to get confirmation that Lee still missing, a male employee said the police chief had “no comment,” then hung up when asked for the chief’s name.
A post Wednesday morning on the Kotzebue Friends Church Facebook page reads, “Please be in prayer for the family and friends of Lee Jung ‘Jay’ today. Jay passed away in the fire at Bayside and there is a memorial service being held at Bayside at 1 p.m. today for him.”
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.