The presentation at the Stanley Millner Library today by the Office of the Medical Examiner was very interesting. The only other person I recognized was Niraj and he left so fast after the presentation I thought someone must have been chasing him!
The presenter was Jared Zsombor who is one of the initial scene responders / field investigator. The presentation went on for over 2 hours and was very interesting. Below are some of the hastily scribbled notes I made while listening:
- Only about 2% of the deaths are considered criminal. Rest are suicides, accidental, etc.
- In 2009 the MEs Office investigated 1713 deaths in the Edmonton Region
- There are three levels of identifications (Unidentified, Tentative Identification, and Positive Identification)
- Unidentified is from discovery of body, until a tentative identity is established.
- Tentative identity can be established via a driver's license, wallet, etc.
- Positive identity is via Next of Kin, Friends, finger prints, dental x-rays, clinical x-rays.
- One of the first things they do is determine if there is a FPS (Federal Penitentiary System) Number, as this will give the police the fingerprints, etc. Subsequently if the body is positively identified then the FPS can be updated which means that future crimes, bodies, etc. won't have to consider this person's fingerprints.
- It is impossible to establish the time of death! According to Jared the standard response that anybody with any training in the field gives if asked for the time of death is essentially "some time between the last time they were seen, and when the body was found."
- There are 5 changes that a body goes through after death:
- Livor Mortis:
- The pooling of blood at the lowest points of a body. Happens within 6 to 8 hours of death. Is quite obvious, and is a good indicator if the body was moved at a later time.
- The pooled blood stays where it is once it's there because the blood congeals, and the capillaries expand.
- Clothes, jewelery, etc. can leave patterns. One of the images he showed was of a man who had died while laying on his front, with his hand underneath him (on his chest). The image of the hand was easily visible as the blood pooled around it & between the outstretched fingers.
- Rigor Mortis:
- Caused by the build-up of acid in muscles. Happens to all muscles at the same rate but the smaller parts of body go stiff first.
- Begins in 12 to 24 hours, and is gone in 24 to 36 hours. But the environment can change these times quickly (warm room, means it comes on faster, etc.)
- Algor Mortis:
- The cooling of the body after death, sometimes used in stories, TV etc. as an indicator (liver temperature), but never used in real life situations as way too many variables to take into account.
- Ocular Changes:
- Potassium is released into the vitreous fluid of the eye.
- Very unreliable for tells most things, happens approximately 72 hours following death, but this is plus or minus 30 hours.
- Vitreous fluid however is extensively used in toxicology tests
- Starts with a blue-green discolouration. There is then gas formation, and finally skeletonization.
- During these stages fluid leaks, is expelled from eyes, nose, mouth, etc. which in the photographs looked very blood-like. Jared said that blood is obviously a component but that this was typical of all deaths and does not mean that there was foul play.
- Majority of deaths today are from ACAD (Atherosclerotic Coronary Artery Disease) - arterial blockage. Ages where this happens are getting younger, and younger.
- Jared next spoke briefly about the underlying causes of death. These are investigated whenever there is anything odd. One example he gave was with regard to a victim who died because he had been involved in a car accident 20+ years earlier, and as a result of this was a paraplegic.
- There are 5 manners of death:
- Natural, which makes up about 50% of all deaths
- Accidental, approximately 25%
- Suicide, 15 to 20%
- Homicide, 2%
- Undetermined, 2-3%
- The manner of death is an opinion
- The cause of death is a proven fact
- Typical methods are gunshot, hanging (takes 5 minutes, but after 30 to 40 seconds there is no going back, as all that has to be done is stopping the blood flow to the brain), gassing (Carbon Monoxide typically, which is lethal at 30 to 35%)
- "Suicide notes" are present in about 50% of cases, but not considered a true suicide note unless it say something to the effect "I'm going to do such-and-such"
- When investigating a case they look at the:
- Deceased's History (medical, psychiatric, and social)
- Scene (identity, place, time, cause, manner, etc.), scenes can be very messy making it extremely difficult for investigators to determine these things.
- All of the cases the MEs office looks at start with an external exam which consists of a head-to-toe exam, x-rays, and toxicology in some cases the finding following this dictate an autopsy has to be performed.
- Autopsies are done when the external exam isn't sufficient , or when it turn up something else. They are also done in all homicides.
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