Go To Search
Click to Home
How Do I
What We Do
Coroner scene picture

Crime Scene Investigations

Investigations may be as simple as a few phone calls to verify an expected death from a known terminal condition, or as complex as a thorough death scene investigation, protection of property, multiple interviews, autopsy, identification procedures, location and notification of next-of-kin, consultations with other experts, and comprehensive laboratory testing. The Initial report of a death is taken by the coroner, usually by phone. Generally, the Coroner decides whether the death falls under the Coroner's jurisdiction and whether a formal investigation of the death will occur. The Coroner or deputy coroner usually also decides how extensive the investigation should be, varying the extent of the investigation based on the unfolding findings during the investigation. At some point during the investigation the Coroner or deputy may decide an autopsy is needed.

The Coroner or deputy may make the determination to release the body from the death scene directly to a funeral home or may decide to have the body transported to the Washington County Coroner's Office pending additional investigation. The investigation to determine cause and manner of death may include interviewing witnesses, friends, relatives, and health care providers. An examination of the death scene and the surroundings may also be included in the investigation to collect and preserve evidence. The investigation may also require a physical examination of the body or autopsy, and may require laboratory tests of tissue or bodily fluids. All of which may take just a few hours to many days and even months to determine the cause and manner of death.

Types of Deaths Investigated
Drowning Electrocution Explosion Exposure Falls
Gaseous Inhalation Gunshot Wounds Head Trauma Homicide Ingestion
Injury at Work Lightning Natural Causes Neglect Overdose
Police Custody Deaths Stabbing Strangulation Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths
Suicide Thermal Unexpected Deaths Vehicle-related deaths Weather-related deaths

Death Scenes
Each scene is different, but here is some of the activities that may occur:
  • Find out about the death
    • What, when, where, how, etc.
  • Confirm death and establish time of death and date of death
  • Conduct interviews and obtain information
  • Document past and present medical history
    • Hospitalizations, doctors, treatments, etc.
  • Determine identity of decedent
    • Find out the name, address
  • Document the next of kin and their relationship
    • If next of kin was notified, when and by whom, who will attempt notification, if follow-up is needed
  • Observe environment and examine the deceased
    • Environmental conditions (hot, cold, rainy, etc.) surrounding the body and the relationship of evidence and/or other articles or objects to the deceased (knife located next to the right hand of deceased), position of the body (lying on back, side, etc.), location (yard, bedroom, etc.), condition of the person's body?
      • Determine if the person was moved before we came to the scene
      • Did anyone try to save this person's life, if yes, and then the person was moved (sometimes all the way to the hospital)
    • Make a preliminary examination of the deceased with particular reference to identification (tattoos) and external evidence of trauma (cuts, bruises, other marks), also determine if any injuries are a result of resuscitation effort (CPR, needle marks, etc.)
    • Conduct a complete examination to determine estimated time of death, such as body temperature, rigidity, lividity, decomposition, climate of the immediate environment, etc.
    • Collect and/or record evidence
      • Observe and note all physical evidence on the person's body
      • Insures that any medications or drugs, along with any printed / written material related to the cause of death are taken for additional examination and inventory
    • Photograph deceased before and after examination
    • Safeguarding of personal effects on or about the decedent
    • Search the area, if necessary, to obtain information about the decease's next of kin or any legal documents regarding funeral / burial instructions
    • Make a list of all personal effects (money, rings, watches, wallet, etc.) recovered from the body.
    • In presence of police secure home/apartment and other belongings until next of kin can be located and notified of the death
    • Removal of deceased from the scene of death
      • By the Coroner or request families funeral home for removal of the deceased
      • Protect the deceased from bystander observation as possible
      • Supervise proper, respectful removal from the scene
    • Assure police and/or coroner accompanies the deceased autopsy location
    • Request other experts to the scene if needed

After the Investigation
Each death investigation is different, but here are some of the activities that may occur:
  • Telephone conversation with the decedent’s doctor(s)
    • Review and confirm decedents' medical history and possibly subpoena the records if necessary
    • Check prescriptions records and subpoena when necessary
    • Doctor to sign death certificate
      • Referral of the case to the primary care physician to complete the death certificate
    • Coroner to sign death certificate, possibly including:
      • Complete a Death Certificate
      • Authorize Cremation when necessary
      • Order an Autopsy
        • Schedule the autopsy
        • Call PSP R&I and criminal investigators when necessary as to the time and location of the autopsy
        • Complete Coroner’s summary report for use at autopsy
        • State blood kit (If required), complete and mail within three days of autopsy
        • Complete and sign release of body form
        • Complete and sign autopsy authorization form
        • Print necessary photographs for use at autopsy
        • Start personal effects inventory form and complete at autopsy
        • Label body bag with decedent's name
        • Notify the funeral home as to the release of the body
  • Call the family after autopsy and explain the results of the autopsy and if further testing may be necessary
  • Complete a pending death certificate, if necessary
    • Approximately six to eight weeks following the autopsy call and check on results and final report
    • Approximately six to eight weeks call and check on toxicology studies results and final report
  • Call the criminal investigator / police with autopsy / toxicology results
    • Call the family as to cause and manner of death following final autopsy and toxicology reports
    • Complete Coroner’s reports
    • Complete final death certificate
  • File reports with state police, if necessary
  • Complete reports requests from other agencies, insurance companies, attorneys, etc.

Note: These are generic events and many other investigative procedures may be necessary to complete a thorough forensic death investigation. This may take weeks and sometime even months to complete.

RSSPrintEmailFacebookTwitter