On June 18, 2013 an unidentified teenage male was found in a retention pond, with fishing gear and an overturned chair nearby. Foul play was not immediately suspected, but should always be a consideration until ruled out.
Colorado is an elected coroner system state, and several counties have elected forensic pathologists – making them a unique coroner / medical examiner system. Larimer County is one and is also the county that our agency staff investigators received extensive training, internship and on-the-job experience. In a lay coroner system (non-medical examiner), it is possible that this death would have been ruled an ‘Accident’ due to drowning, without the benefit of an autopsy. Thankfully for the family, death investigation in Larimer County follows specific protocols and all equivocal deaths are autopsied by a forensic pathologist and are assisted by the case investigator.
It is important to understand that proper death investigation serves an important public health and safety purpose, as well as for the family – both closure and benefits. Some deaths may result in criminal charges, civil litigation, worker compensation claims, or life insurance benefits. There are two components to death investigation – Manner of Death and Cause of Death. The former is one of five classifications: Natural, Accident, Suicide, Homicide and Undetermined. The latter is specific to what disease process or injury and chain of events caused the death – such as cancer, asphyxiation, or drug overdose. Proper death investigation includes a scene investigation, scene assessment of the decedent, collection of evidence, review of medical and social history, and any additional background of the decedent and circumstances. A forensic autopsy is not performed for all deaths, only equivocal deaths in which clear and current medical history by an attending physician is not available.
It is equally important to understand how important the protocol of death investigation is, at the personal level of the family. This unfortunate death may help with understanding. If there were to have been an altercation resulting in death, and no autopsy – the truth would be unknown and a homicide would likely have been an accident drowning. Without an autopsy, it would not have been determined if he died of a seizure – Natural – or drowning, as was determined. Individuals have been known to commit suicide by drowning. Not only would the truth have been lost, and the family denied the answers they deserve, but perhaps benefits would have been denied or lost. As an example, many life insurance policies have double indemnity clauses for accidents – a $50,000 policy would pay $100,000. Its not just about money – it is about the truth.
This young man’s death has been ruled an Accident due to asphyxia by drowning, probable seizure. Had this young man died of a seizure and then fallen into the pond, this would be discernible through the autopsy protocol and his death would be Natural due to seizure. Similarly, had there been an altercation or other event causing injury and resulting in death, appropriate investigation and autopsy would answer that.
The death of a loved one – family or friend – is traumatic. A proper death investigation protocol, which may include a forensic autopsy or review of the official investigation and findings, is imperative to bringing closure and respect to the family, and truth to the decedent.
Dean A. Beers, CLI, CCDI and Karen S. Beers, BSW, CCDI
Colorado Licensed Private Investigators Nos. PI-503 and PI-502
Board Certified Legal Investigator / Expert
Board Certified Criminal Defense Investigators
Certified Death Investigators / former Deputy Coroners
Associates in Forensic Investigations, LLC
www.DeathCaseReview.com ~ beersda@DeathCaseReview.com
(970) 480-7793 Office (Dean x1 / Karen x2) and (970) 480-7794 Fax
'Quaero Indicium' - To Find The Evidence
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