In all aspects of society, the loss of a child has a great impact on everyone in our community. The sudden unexpected loss of youth and innocents can be devastating for the parents and immediate family of the child. After all aren't we brought up with the belief that our children are meant to survive us? We feel an empty void as we realize that we have been deprived of many years of unfulfilled potential.
For those of us that are assigned to investigate the sudden, unexpected, unnatural death of a child, the impact of loss can be just as strong. We are part of the community that we work. We may sometimes seem desensitized to our surroundings. We have learned to channel the energies created by these tragic events into our desire to seek the truth. It is an experience that we never truly learn to fully except.
The unexpected loss can come by many forms, but those will be other shared experiences and we seem to experience them all at some time during our careers. A growing trend seems to be by motor vehicle hit-n-run. These are incidents that are usually responded to by traffic investigation units.
What use to be commonly referred to as a traffic accident investigation is giving way to the more modern terminology of vehicle crash investigation. Most departments have assigned traffic investigative units or traffic homicide investigators. These specially trained units are given the duties of investigating serious or fatal car crashes. Their specialized training deals with accessing the structural damage to a vehicle or other items, taking measurements and drag factors to determine speed, movement, and points of collision for traffic incident reconstruction.
Crime scene investigators or evidence recovery technicians are support units for department entities and other agencies. We are responsible for assisting all investigative sources when requested. Our specialization deals with physical evidence used in determining some sort of identification. Unlike the crash investigators, most crime scene investigators or evidence recovery technicians are not specifically trained in crime scene reconstruction. Our specific qualifications and training in the reconstruction process are the assured proper documentation of the scene. This allows the trained expert from the various forensic disciplines to reconstruct or duplicate the events and conditions that occurred at the crime scene. Unlike with the crash investigator, the information obtained from the evidence at a crime scene for specific reconstruction are points of impact, points of contact and points of origin.
Crash investigators are accustomed to having the vehicles present at the scene during their investigations. The crime scene investigator has been called upon to use his expertise due to the trend of hit-n-run incidents, where the vehicle is no longer present on the scene. The crime scene investigator is being asked to assist by searching, documenting and recovering the evidence that will give the information to identify and determine:
These are the common task that we perform at any other type of scene. Most of the crash investigators that we have worked with are appreciative of the assistance and are determined for a successful investigation.
In the few cases that we have been called upon to assist there are some things that the investigator will want to check. Determine that you have a legal right for the work that you are about to begin. A warrant should be obtained by the crash investigator prior to any examination.
The vehicle should be taken to a location equipped with a hydraulic lift. The most important evidence is usually going to be found on the undercarriage of the vehicle. To properly examine the undercarriage the vehicle will need to be raised above the surface.
The groups of evidence that will be searched for, on the undercarriage of the vehicle, are transfer or trace evidence. Remember the Locard exchange principle, contact between two boundaries will result in the transferring of items. These microscopic items (hair, clothing fiber, tissue, blood) will require an intensive examination of the undercarriage to be located, documented and collected. Make sure that you involve the crash investigator. Take the time to explain the examination process and any findings. Make sure to clarify any follow ups that the crash investigator will need to complete concerning standards or exemplars that might be needed by the lab.
A very close and dear friend once passed on something to me that will always be remembered, "you owe it", "to show it", "if you know it"....
Mike Byrd (1955-2005) joined the Miami-Dade County Police Department in 1983 and started with the Crime Scene Investigations Bureau in 1987. He took an exceptionally active part in the science of forensic crime scene investigations, including development of new techniques, publishing methodology of crime scene procedures, and teaching. Mike developed new techniques for gathering and cataloging crime scene evidence including the lifting of fingerprints, vehicle tire impressions, and footwear impressions.
Mike's methods and analysis withstood the scrutiny of the criminal justice process. He published more than thirty crime scene articles on crime scene evidence collection and for the International Association for Identification and was awarded The Good of the Association Award in 2002 for his innovative identification methodology and techniques. He taught crime scene investigation procedures and techniques at police departments around the country and took great pride at instructing smaller Florida police departments in the latest techniques in evidence gathering.
Mike performed the tough detailed oriented forensic work at many major crime scenes and disasters over two-decades. He gathered, processed, and identified the DNA evidence used to convict the Tamiami Strangler for a string of heinous murders in 1994. His thoughtful gathering of evidence at the Valujet crash allowed families to reach closure for the deaths of loved ones.
Mike Byrd died after a more than two year battle with multiple myeloma cancer. Annually, the Police Officer Assistance Trust awards the Mike Byrd Crime Scene Investigation Scholarship in his honor.
Article submitted by the author
Article posted March 13, 2000