Going inside the Death Investigation Unit

An inside look at the medical examiner's office
Crew tours the medical examiner's office. (Source: WOIO)
Crew tours the medical examiner's office. (Source: WOIO)

. - From investigating homicides and suspicious deaths to preparing for mass disasters, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office is busy around the clock. Their main goal is finding answers for families.
 
Sara Goldenberg has an inside look after participating in a three day medicolegal training course with law enforcement. It was the first time a media outlet was invited to participate.

When a call comes in to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office for a suspicious death, not all of the work is done back at the office.
 
Investigators with the "death scene investigation unit" head to the scene.  The unit is made up of 12 investigators.
 
Their work in the field helps forensic scientists and pathologists find the cause and manner of death, with autopsies and lab work back at the office.

"I think it's a common idea, and it gets reinforced by popular shows on TV, is that somehow an autopsy process is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It's not," said Dr. Thomas Gilson, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.

The medical examiner's office usually handles homicides, suspicious deaths, accidents and overdoses. But they're also prepared for the worst.
 
Mass fatalities like we saw out of Akron last week, when a plane crashed into an apartment complex--killing all nine people on board--could send their crews scrambling.

They own one of seven "mobile morgues" in the state, ready and equipped for disasters.

So far, it's only been used for training drills. In cases like this, identifying victims can be a challenge. But fingerprints can sometimes be salvaged.
 
Fingerprints are still a key way to identify people because everyone's are unique. Sometimes they can even be done on burn victims or people who drowned, depending on the condition of the body.
 
Dental records, DNA and X-rays can also help identify the bodies that wind up at the medical examiner's office. Most bodies stay there for two or three days. By the time their loved ones claim them, hopefully they'll know how and why they died.

"It's detective work, and it's very satisfying that we give answers a lot of the time," said Dr. Gilson.
 
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