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CdA death eerie reminder

Family still unsure what caused fatal fall at resort in 1993

Police declared the man’s death an accident in less than a day.

After a night of hard partying in downtown Coeur d’Alene, four young people booked a room at The Coeur d’Alene Resort. One, a 21-year-old Spokane man, never left. He fell to his death from a 12th-story balcony.

It was 1993 – 16 years before a woman fell to her death from the balcony of a neighboring room last week.

While detectives ruled Eric Hildahl’s Jan. 3, 1993, death an accident the next day, news archives show they never determined what caused the 1989 Shadle Park High School graduate to fall.

“We were all kind of left wondering for sure what happened,” said his stepmother, Esther Hildahl. “We never really knew.”

The July 30 death of Lynea M. Sprung Hambrice, 36, reminded his family of the tragedy they say is still shrouded in mystery.

“It just kinda hit me like a wall of bricks when I saw that,” said Hildahl’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson. “Same floor and everything.”

While the cases are similar, detectives haven’t said whether Hambrice’s death was accidental.

Like Hildahl, she was drunk at the time of her death – police say her blood alcohol level was 0.23. The incident’s only witness, Hambrice’s boyfriend, Ian E. James, 38, reported the death as a suicide to the 911 dispatcher, resort officials said.

But a coroner said Hambrice’s body landed in a manner consistent with a fall, and detectives have returned to the resort at least once to take measurements and interview witnesses.

Court documents show a history of violence between Hambrice and James.

Last fall, Hambrice, student services coordinator for the Louisiana State University School of Music, was hospitalized after James beat her with a liquor bottle, according to a report from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. James arrived at the hospital when a detective was there taking a report.

“This Detective states that Hambrice became physically scared and started shaking and crying, begging this Detective to make him (James) leave,” according to the report.

James, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Idaho Senate in the 1996 Republican primary election, was charged with second-degree aggravated battery, but the charge was dismissed at Hambrice’s request, according to court records.

Coeur d’Alene police Sgt Christie Wood declined to say if detectives investigating Hambrice’s death had seen the report.

The couple checked into the resort July 29 and were to stay four nights.

James’ 20th class reunion at Kellogg High School was that weekend. The 1994 University of Idaho graduate, who police say has returned to Louisiana, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Police say he’s cooperating with the investigation.

The lengthy investigation suggests a more complicated scenario than what detectives encountered when Hildahl was found dead in 1993.

In that case, Hildahl and another man were awake when Hildahl fell about 3:30 a.m. Two women were asleep at the time – one told police the man woke her up before he discovered Hildahl had fallen.

The other said she awoke to the man saying Hildahl had fallen from the balcony. Hildahl’s family hired a private detective but discovered only more questions – not answers, said Esther Hildahl.

Eric Hildahl feared heights, and his blood-alcohol level was so high he wouldn’t have been able to stand up, let alone climb up on a balcony, his family said. It was also icy and cold when he fell. His family doubts he would have gone out there on his own.

Police consider Hildahl’s case closed, Wood said, and the detective who investigated Hildahl’s death has retired.

The investigation into Hambrice’s death could last for several weeks as police await final toxicology reports.

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