Questions continue to pour in, and we love having them to keep us busy! Thanks to all who submit, and a special thanks to our coroner who dutifully answers each and every one of them. If you have any questions of your own, feel free to submit them on the site, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, on to the next round of questions and answers:
This is probably an odd question, but my niece passed away recently.Hher mother is a drug addict the baby was a drug baby. I am having a hard time believing she died from SIDS. When she was found, she was cold, blue and had a mark on her face. I’ve heard SIDS babies don’t turn blue. Is this true? Do you think my niece died from SIDS?
Was the baby bed sharing with her addict mother at the time of her passing? This is most likely an accidental asphyxiation due to rollover by high/addicted mother. I doubt it was SIDS – but, that may be what mom tells people to avoid the issues associated. Without knowing more, I really can’t say for certain.
How often do you find a parasite in someone’s stomach?
I’ve never found a parasite in someone’s stomach. However, I don’t live in the areas where it might be more common.
Can a primary cause of death be listed as “Influenza” only?
If the primary cause of death is Influenza, then it is most appropriate, yes.
At anytime would an Autopsy be performed from the back?
Yes. There is sometimes dissection done on the back and spine – especially in child abuse situations.
My brothers tox screen showed a level of tramadol of 5,660 ng and the “therapeutic range” is 200-700. The coroner ruled it ‘suspect’ and left the death manner as “undetermined”. Could they have determined it a suicide or accidental? Where do we go from here? We don’t know how to determine if he had a high tolerance or intent. The ng values are confusing.
That is a very high level – and I suspect that if he regularly used tramadol, that it was more of an accidental death. If he didn’t regularly use it and just took a lot of the pills – I’d be more inclined to think suicide. Obviously, the coroner didn’t know either and put “undetermined” for the manner because it could not be determined.
Do coroners routinely scan (human) bodies for the same kind of ID chip that some animals get? I read a news story a few years ago about people voluntarily getting RFID chips implanted – in one case it was to verify their identity and age at a bar.
No, we don’t check. No Coroner that I have ever met checks, either.
So, my step daughter had a drug problem. She had been missing and her body was found in a secluded area, in her car, with the windows up and doors locked. This is in NC and the weather here was in the 80s. The detective said it looked like she had been there for a while. Her body was badly decomposed so we had to send dental records. The detective on scene said that one tattoo on her forearm was still noticble. My question is, will they ever be able to tell us how long she had expired? The detective said it looked like she has reclined the driver’s seat back to sleep and her cause of death was because she overdosed. We had heard she has been into a drug called “china white.” We had no idea she was doing that kind of drug. My daughter weighed 105lbs. Due to her small size and weather, did that speed up the decomp process? We were told toxicology can take up to 4 months? What will this tell us? Will they be able to tell what drugs were in her system? They didnt allow us to see her body due to how bad it was decomposed and all items in the car she had with her were destroyed.
I’m sorry for the death of your step daughter. I will do my best to answer your questions:
1. China White is a type of heroin – much stronger than heroin – it’s actually called Alpha Methylfentanyl and it is one of the Fentanyl derivatives. It is extremely potent and a 105lb person could easily die from a small amount of this drug.
2. I doubt they can tell you, based on the condition of her body, how long she was there. That would most likely have to be determined by her last known purchases (receipts) or “last seen alive” times to give you some sort of window for determining post mortem interval.
3. The warm weather inside a closed vehicle absolutely would have increased her rate of decomposition.
4. I could see, in larger areas, where toxicology of this sort (many/unknown substances) could take up to 4 months.
5. The toxicology report will tell you everything that is in her blood at the time of the death. However, because of her decomposition, they may have had to test brain or liver tissue for toxicology (often there is no viable blood left to test in a decomposed body) which could also lead to the extended time for testing.
6. Yes, they can tell…even with the advanced decomposition, what her toxicology levels were at the time of death. There will be some slight changes due to post mortem distribution (levels changing after death), but it will be slight.
7. I’m sorry they wouldn’t let you see her body. I don’t agree with that and I always let families view bodies if they wish to – I simply take the time to prepare them for what they will see.
I hope some of these answers help you.
My friend hung them self, they kicked a chair out from under them. Did they suffer? No one ever let me see them afterwards. From what I have read it’s not always an easy way to go. Do the eyes really pop out of the head? Does the tongue really swell up and turn blue? They were found within five hours. I have all these questions but no answers. What is it like when someone strangle some salve? Or hangs themselves? I read that people can break their jaw. Was there anyway if he was found within 60 minutes that he could’ve been saved?
Hanging is a fairly quick death, actually. Did they suffer? I don’t know. The eyes do not pop out. The tongue is usually out, clenched between the teeth and swollen – very common due to hanging. Jaws aren’t broken in a hanging. During a hanging, the blood supply is cut off from the head – so, oxygenated blood can’t reach the brain, and the unoxygenated blood can’t leave the brain (all due to the pressure on the carotid artery and jugular veins respectively). So, hanging is an asphyxiation death – but, because of blood flow. The person usually passes out in a few seconds and death occurs within minutes after that. He could not have been saved if he was found an hour later. Not even 15 minutes later. I’m very sorry about your friend.
If a parasite is found inside a body during autopsy, is this something the coroner researches (i.e goes about identifying it, understanding what the parasite does, etc.) or is this outsourced to someone who specializes in epidemiology? When it comes to parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc., how far does a coroner go on their own with research wise before having to get other personnel involved?
It varies. We use outside specialists on a case-by-case basis as needed. We go until we have answers. So, we wouldn’t just say, “there was some sort of parasite found in the brain” and move on. We would research who could give us the best answers for figuring out what it was – then determine whether or not it is a public crisis of any sort and take appropriate steps. We once found a weird spot on a man’s lung, and after quite a process, we discovered it was active Tuberculosis! We had to have the health department go to his home and they treated the entire family. So, we absolutely keep going until we have answers….there are many, many resources at our disposal.
In cases of really messy scenes (large amounts of blood, fluids, etc.) why don’t the Coroners and Police Officers clean it up? It’s not fair that the people left behind should have to clean up a horrific mess.
First, I am very sorry if you were left to clean up a mess of that sort on your own. It isn’t the Police’s “job” to clean up biohazard from a scene – they aren’t trained for it and don’t have resources for proper disposal. The Coroner also isn’t expected to clean up. I, personally, clean up within reason, anything that I can clean. I certainly can’t clean things like stained upholstery on a scene. That being said, we DO have resources for companies that handle biohazard scenes. What should happen is that the police and/or coroner address that matter with you and help you with names and contacting proper companies to get the job done properly. It shouldn’t be left to you to figure out on your own. I’m sorry for you, or anyone who has had a situation like that handled so poorly.
I have an interest in becoming a coroner and I was wondering what your major was in highschool and the level of education required.
I addressed this to much greater depth in our book, Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die
, but here’s the short answer: To be a coroner you simply have to get elected. So, you want enough of a background that makes you ‘electable’. My degree is in mortuary science. I didn’t have a major in high school – just general studies. Any combination of studies in human biology, mortuary science, criminal justice, political science, etc. would be best.
What was your first reaction to smelling a dead body?
My first reaction was nothing. I was trying to make the people around me know that I could handle it – so, I didn’t show any reaction. However, it was rather off-putting.
Can “acute alcohol poisoning” cause death? I know someone who recently died, but the coroner said that the cause of death was unknown. The coroner’s autopsy noted that the BAC found wasn’t fatal, but did amount to acute alcohol poisoning. There was also mention in his report of possible adverse effects of alcohol and nicotine on the heart. Can “acute alcohol poisoning” cause death? Is this a case of alcohol quite possibly being the cause even though the coroner couldn’t prove it?
Acute alcohol poisoning can cause death – definitely. And, in the case of someone who doesn’t drink and doesn’t have much tolerance, a lower than average level of alcohol could prove to be fatal.
What does it mean on an autopsy report if it states “Thymus is not Identified”?
It means the person is over 20/25 years old. Each person is born with a large thymus gland which aides in developing our immune systems. This gland shrinks as we age and our immunities develop. So, by the time a person is young adult – they don’t have a thymus gland anymore. So, the doctor was simply stating that for this person’s age – they don’t have a thymus gland.