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Sopher, Irvin M. The Role Of the Pathologist In Arson and Related Investigations. Fire and Arson Investigator. June, 1984.

Abstract: This article discusses the information a pathologist can contribute to a fire investigation. An autopsy can reveal the identity of the deceased, the cause and manner of death, the time of death, and can contribute valuable information regarding the cause of the fire.

The article summarizes the different method pathologists use to determine the identity of the victim. Fingerprints and dental records are the most widely used methods. When these methods cannot be employed, a pathologist can estimate the person's sex, age, race, and height to compile a profile of the victim.

The pathologist can determine the cause of death and the manner of death. The cause of death refers to the direct element that caused the person to die, for example, heart attack, gunshot wound, or smoke inhalation. The manner of death is a legal classification and the terms used to describe it are natural, accidental, homicide, suicide, or undetermined.

The time of death is important to investigators. The pathologist can determine the time of death with accuracy be examining carbon monoxide levels in blood, soot deposits in airways, and internal organ changes. The pathologist can also conclude which injuries were sustained before death and which ones were post-mortem.

The cause of the fire is determined by investigators and is usually done at the fire scene. The pathologist's examination of the victims usually corroborates the cause of the fire. If the cause of the fire is undetermined the pathologist's findings will be considered inconclusive. However, information gathered by the pathologist can sometimes point investigators in the right direction.

For more information, contact:
International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI)
300 Broadway Suite 100
St. Louis, MO 63102-2808
Phone: 314-621-1966

 
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