Homicide detectives investigate a wooded area on northbound Nicolls Road...

Homicide detectives investigate a wooded area on northbound Nicolls Road near Sheep Pasture Road, where an unidentified man's body was found by a passerby. (June 23, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk police are waiting to see the results of an autopsy done Thursday on an East Setauket man whose body was found near Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he had sought treatment but then went missing.

Detectives don't believe the death of John Heiberger, 46, was the result of foul play.

"Something happened that caused him to die and we're not sure what that is," said Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky, commander of the homicide squad. "There's no outward sign of trauma on the body."

At Heiberger's home in East Setauket, relatives and friends declined to speak.

A passerby saw Heiberger's body at 1:50 p.m. Wednesday on Nicolls Road in a wooded area near the hospital, where Heiberger had sought treatment for an unknown ailment.

He had gone to the hospital emergency room Friday but apparently left the triage area before being treated. Pelkofsky said he wasn't sure how Heiberger got to the hospital.

Detectives said his disappearance, was reported by the hospital to university police, who contacted Suffolk police.

Pelkofsky said Heiberger was found between his home and the hospital, suggesting Heiberger was on his way home when he died.

The Suffolk medical examiner's office is conducting the autopsy. The cause of death could take weeks, Pelkofsky said.

It was not clear whether the medical condition that brought Heiberger to the hospital contributed to his death.

Wednesday night, Lauren Sheprow, a hospital spokeswoman, declined to comment on the specifics regarding Heiberger's health, citing patient confidentiality laws.

Sheprow would only say, "In general, there are no laws that require patients to stay in the emergency room."

She said Thursday that the hospital routinely follows up on patients who leave prematurely.

"If a patient is no longer present when his or her name is called to be seen by a physician, and has voluntarily walked out of the emergency department without notifying anyone, we make a phone call to that patient within 24 hours to offer any help that might be needed," Sheprow said. "We also send a follow-up letter to the home of the patient with an offer of further assistance, encouragement to seek medical care if the symptoms persist and a number to contact a registered nurse in the emergency department with whom the individual can discuss any outstanding concerns or to seek additional support or advice for follow-up care."

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