The wife of Michael Peterson, who ran unsuccessfully for Durham's City Council this fall, was found dead early Sunday at the base of a staircase in her Forest Hills home.
About 2:30 a.m., Peterson called 911 to report that his wife, Kathleen Hunt Peterson, 48, had been injured in a fall, Police Maj. Dwight Pettiford said. When rescue workers arrived at the home at 1810 Cedar St., she was lying dead on the floor. Police are investigating the death.
The Durham Police Department's mobile substation and about a dozen police cars -- marked and unmarked -- were parked Sunday morning at the back entrance of the two-story home. Investigators entered the house wearing white, protective coveralls.
Details about what happened Sunday morning remain sketchy, Pettiford said about midday, because police had not yet interviewed Peterson, who was spending time with family.
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"We are very concerned about the loss to the Peterson family," Pettiford said.
Police would not reveal the extent of Mrs. Peterson's injuries. Her body has been sent to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for autopsy, Pettiford said. Preliminary results were not available late Sunday.
"I can't tell you about [the injuries]," Pettiford said, "because we really don't know."
Police don't know whether anyone else was in the house with the Petersons early Sunday, Pettiford said.
Maureen Berry, who lives across the street from the Petersons at 1819 Cedar St., was awakened by a fire truck and ambulance about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. She said she went over to the house and talked with Peterson and his son, Todd, who had been visiting for the night.
Peterson told her he had been sitting outside at the family's pool and that his wife had gone to bed, Berry said. When he went inside, he found her lying near the back stairway, which extends from the main floor to the second, Berry said Peterson told her.
"She was a very good friend," Berry said. "She lived life to the fullest. She was a very intelligent woman and a loving mother."
Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel Networks employee, graduated from Duke University with a degree in engineering, Berry said. She served on the board of the Durham Arts Council, was active in the Historic Preservation Society and the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, and helped raise funds for the North Carolina Ballet. Every year, she and her husband threw a party for the artists of the American Dance Festival.
She often produced auction items for organizations such as the Durham Art Guild, Berry said.
"She was so creative," she said. "She would spend a weekend coming up with tables that would be painted and eligible for auction."
Kathleen Peterson had one daughter from a previous marriage -- Caitlin Atwater, a sophomore at Cornell University -- two stepsons and two stepdaughters, Berry said. She married Peterson five or six years ago in the house where they lived. She also is survived by her mother, two sisters and a brother, Berry said.
Michael Peterson is the author of four books about Vietnam, including the successful novel "A Time of War." A former freelance columnist for the Herald-Sun, he lost Durham's mayoral race in 1999 after admitting that for years he had falsely claimed he sustained a permanent injury to his right leg from combat in Vietnam, when it actually happened in a car crash in Japan. He writes political commentary for his Web site, www.Hizzoner.com.
Gretchen Cooley, a former neighbor, said Kathleen Peterson was a petite, sweet woman.
"She was delightful, very energetic," Cooley said. "They had a nice life there in that lovely house."