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rosehips
03-21-2011, 12:51 AM
If two people were killed in a fire on Thursday, would the autopsies already be done by Sunday? I imagine there's a time limitation based on decay.

What happens to the bodies after the autopsies?

I need for the bodies to be able to be examined on Sunday due to new information. Is that possible or does my timeline get in the way? It's not the end of the world for my story if it's not possible but it does complicate matters.

Also, side question:
If detectives from property crimes originally got the arson case, but then the bodies were found, would the case get transfered automatically to homicide? What might influence that?

Blue236
03-21-2011, 01:16 AM
It depends on how busy the ME is. It would also depend on whether a homicide is expected because that would definitely speed things up as there is a time limit on gathering evidence.

It would be possible to have it by then. The only thing they won't have are the toxicology stuff. That usually takes a couple of weeks even at a rush pace.

I missed your side question: Yes, it would get shared with homicide. But I imagine and people can correct me on this is that it would be a joint operation between homicide and the arson investigators.

rosehips
03-21-2011, 01:19 AM
So if I understand you, you're saying Sunday might be *early* for the ME to get to it?

jclarkdawe
03-21-2011, 03:27 AM
If two people were killed in a fire on Thursday, would the autopsies already be done by Sunday? I imagine there's a time limitation based on decay. Decay isn't much of an issue, as the bodies are refrigerated. For most medical examiners, the weekend is time off. Unless there's a rush. Even then, most would wait to Monday. One of the perks of the job. However, you could end up being called in on the weekend.

What happens to the bodies after the autopsies? The body is turned over to the family, which actually means that the family directs a funeral home to pick up the body.

I need for the bodies to be able to be examined on Sunday due to new information. Is that possible or does my timeline get in the way? Easily done with the starting point of whether the fire department suspects whether there are bodies in the fire. Let's say the fire started about 4 PM and was put out by 10 PM. Structure is partially collapsed. I would direct an external visual search at that point using flashlights and assess the structure for danger of it collapsing further. If nothing is sighted, and I don't trust the building, I'd keep an engine on scene throughout the night (which I'm probably going to do anyway dealing with hot spots). Police would also probably keep an officer on scene either. No one allowed in. Then we start a thorough search around 7 or 8 AM, when we have some light. Someone for the ME's office will be on scene, as well as police. With a partial collapse, it's going to be slow and cautious. I'd not going to lose a fire fighter for a dead body. Say we find the body about 10 AM. At that point, fire fighters remove enough debris to see the body, but not disturbing it.

Then the fire fighters withdraw and the ME and police go in and do their thing. Pictures, lots of pictures will be taken. Measurements, a determination of where the body was at the time of the fire will be made, and any other investigation of the body in situ will be made. This takes time. After the ME and police get done (the police will include a homicide detective and an arson investigator), the fire department then extracts the body. Depending upon how stuck it is, this can take quite a while. We'd prefer not cutting the body to pieces getting it out. By the time we get done, it could easily be 2 PM or later. No one is in any rush.

By this point, there's no sense in starting an autopsy when the bodies get back to the morgue. They can wait until Monday, as they're not going anywhere. It's not the end of the world for my story if it's not possible but it does complicate matters.

Also, side question:
If detectives from property crimes originally got the arson case, but then the bodies were found, would the case get transfered automatically to homicide? What might influence that? Property crimes would be extremely unlikely to get an arson case. Arson investigation is a very specialized skill.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

rosehips
03-21-2011, 04:45 AM
Jim, THANK YOU!
Such great info. On the last comment re: property crimes. I came up with that because of this organizational chart, from the Sacramento PD:
http://www.sacpd.org/pdf/inside/orgchart2010.pdf
I hate to impose on your generosity--you've already given me so much! But if you have a minute, would you take a look at it and let me know what the name of the department would be that handles arson? There's also this organizational chart, http://www.sacpd.org/pdf/inside/ooi.pdf which is specifically for the Office of Investigations.

jclarkdawe
03-21-2011, 05:32 AM
Jim, THANK YOU!
Such great info. On the last comment re: property crimes. I came up with that because of this organizational chart, from the Sacramento PD:
http://www.sacpd.org/pdf/inside/orgchart2010.pdf
I hate to impose on your generosity--you've already given me so much! But if you have a minute, would you take a look at it and let me know what the name of the department would be that handles arson? There's also this organizational chart, http://www.sacpd.org/pdf/inside/ooi.pdf which is specifically for the Office of Investigations.

That's because you looked in the wrong organization. It would be the Fire Arson Investigation Unit (http://www.sacfire.org/indexSub.cfm?page=876595) of the Sacramento Fire Department. Arson investigation involves extensive knowledge about the science of fires and police departments don't have the expertise to do it. It takes hundreds of fires to begin to understand how stuff burns.

My guess is that the Arson Unit has direct contact with the Sacramento County District Attorney's office, and may in fact have a special attorney assigned to them. The Arson Unit normally prosecutes cases that are strictly arson without police involvement. They have arrest authority and can function entirely without police.

Relationships between police departments and fire departments vary a lot, and I don't know anyone in that area who could tell you what happens in Sacramento. New York is famous for the fact that the police and the fire department never communicate. For example, on 9/11, the police helicopters' information was not being relayed to the fire department. And that's the norm in New York.

Los Angeles, from my understanding, has a fire department that works reasonably well with the LA Sheriff's department. But the underlying dynamics between the departments become an issue here. Think turf wars. I don't know how much of a turf war there is between Sacramento's police and fire departments.

Going through your scenario as near as I can tell, this is my guess as to what would happen. At any major fire (multiple alarms), an arson investigator is sent to the fire, either arriving while the fire is still burning, or more likely, after it is out. Unless there is evidence of a crime other than arson, that would be it.

As long as no one suspects that your victims have been murdered, police would not be involved. Most deaths in fires are accidental. When there becomes a suspicion that a murder may have occurred, homicide detectives would be contacted. Here's where turf wars come in. In New York, this is going to take a knife in the victim or a bullet hole, and even that might not be enough. But if the turf war is low, an arson investigator would call in homicide as soon as they get a gut feeling a murder occurred.

For the purposes of your story, I'd have some turf war between the departments, but you've got a lot of room on how it plays out, depending on what your plot needs.

If you want to see a good movie about arson investigation, watch BACKDRAFT.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

rosehips
03-21-2011, 08:56 AM
Thank you... so the arson investigators would arrest the person they determine is the arsonist, if I understand you right.
That works for me, as I am trying to have the investigators of this crime at cross purposes with my mcs, one of whom is a homicide detective.
This may be obvious, but I assume the ME is the same for everyone? The fire department doesn't have its own ME, does it?

jclarkdawe
03-21-2011, 05:46 PM
Thank you... so the arson investigators would arrest the person they determine is the arsonist, if I understand you right.
That works for me, as I am trying to have the investigators of this crime at cross purposes with my mcs, one of whom is a homicide detective.
This may be obvious, but I assume the ME is the same for everyone? The fire department doesn't have its own ME, does it?

To answer the easy part first, the ME would be the same for everybody, and probably would cover the entire county.

Here's a plausible scenario for you. Arson investigator (many work alone a lot of the time) originally tried to join the LA police department. During his probationary period, they just have concerns about his ability to do the job, and they let him go. It happens.

He moves to Sacramento, and gets a job with the fire department. He works as a fire fighter for eight years and when an opening for arson investigator comes up, he grabs it (arson investigators have to have some time as a fire fighter before they can get the job). He's happy, because he's sort of a cop, which is what he really wants to be. And he knows more than any cop, despite what the LA police said to him when they let him go.

So he gets called to investigate this structure fire, with two possible DOAs, accidental deaths. Patrol officer shows up, sees super arson investigator on the job, knows his reputation as an a-hole, and decides he's got better things to do with his life. Fire department pulls the bodies, with the arson investigator taking pictures and all that stuff, and the bodies are taken to the ME. No expectation that the deaths might be anything but accidental. (Police could be looking for these people, but notice there's not much give and take going on between the arson investigator and the police.)

Arson investigator discovers it's arson, figures out how did it, and arrests the guy on Friday or Saturday. Rather than bringing the suspect to the local police department for booking and holding until the suspect bails out or goes to county jail (which is in Sacramento), arson investigator brings suspect to the county jail, questions the suspect there, and never lets the police know about it.

ME then discovers the murders, and the police start looking for the suspect, not knowing he's sitting in jail.

This way you've got a turf war without having to worry about whether the departments actually have a turf war going on. It's plausible to any fire fighter, but you might want RJK to check whether it makes sense from the police side.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

rosehips
03-21-2011, 07:29 PM
Great stuff once again. I really appreciate it.

Jeanette
03-24-2011, 02:26 AM
This is very helpful to me, too, Jim - my WIP has FIRE and MURDER and SHENANIGANS. Thanks so much!

rosehips
03-31-2011, 10:41 PM
So if a witness comes forward who can provide an alibi to the person arrested for the arson/murder, who would that witness make a statement to? The FD? The PD? The DA?