Bacon: New identification tool helps coroners, families

Posted by: Victoria Klimczak  | Friday, February 1, 2019 2:04 pm

Unfortunately, there are some situations where human remains are difficult to identify using the tools available to coroners. This can present obstacles when trying to solve crimes, provide closure to families and give respect the deceased. Most times, remains can be identified visually. Other times, dental records, fingerprints and DNA testing is used. A proposal for a new law I co-authored would offer an additional tool for accurately and efficiently identifying human remains.

Legislation I co-authored would allow coroners to track the serial numbers on surgically implanted medical devices in order to make an official identification of human remains. In incidents when faces may be unidentifiable or fingerprints are damaged, the process to positively identify remains can be long, tedious and expensive. This proposal could speed up the identification process since surgical implants are individualized pieces of equipment with unique serial numbers. Medical devices such as a pacemaker or artificial cornea, which are registered in manufacturer’s databases, can be accessed in only a matter of minutes.

Medical examiners say it can take several weeks to identify a damaged body through DNA testing and hours of extensive work using dental records. These procedures can take even more time when multiple parties are involved in the investigation. For example, to simply obtain dental records for an accident that happened in another county, a coroner may have to communicate with the family of the deceased, a dental office, multiple police departments and the morgue. When applicable, using surgical implants to identify a victim can be done with one phone call from the coroner to a 1-800 number. 

Currently, an implant can be used to support an identification, but not to positively identify remains on its own. This legislation would add this useful tool to make more efficient identifications and eliminate some of the issues faced in situations where DNA, fingerprints, dental records and other conventional identification procedures are not viable options. After serving as the Warrick County coroner for six years, I know how important it is for families to have closure and for the county to ID remains. This identification method could have saved our department significant time and resources, and is a good option for our coroners and forensic doctors.

With a limited number of identification methods currently available to coroners, providing an additional tool will help with solving more crimes, providing peace to families and respectfully laying the deceased to rest. As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback on this legislation as it moves through the process. Contact me with any input or questions at h75@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9643.

-30-

State Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Chandler) represents House District 75, 
which includes portions of Warrick, Pike and Spencer counties.

Click here to download a high-resolution photo.