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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 69737 Find in a Library
Title: Thermal Injuries (From Medicolegal Investigation of Death, P 295-319, 1980, by Werner U Spitz and Russell S Fisher - See NCJ-69730)
Author(s): W U Spitz
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 25
Sponsoring Agency: Charles C. Thomas
Springfield, IL 62704
Sale Source: Charles C. Thomas
2600 South First Street
Springfield, IL 62704
United States of America
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Characteristics of thermal injuries upon autopsy examination, as presented in a forensic pathology text, are discussed; burns, victim identification, cause of death determination, and explosions are emphasized.
Abstract: Thermal burns remain a prominent cause of death both in civilian life and in modern warfare. Burns are commonly classified according to the depth of tissue destruction. First degree burns are superficial; damage is limited to the outer layer of skin. Second degree burns typically show blistering, and the upper layers of skin are destroyed. In third degree burns the entire thickness of the skin is destroyed, and pain is absent because of nerve end destruction. Skin and tissue destruction resulting in charring is termed fourth degree burning. Burn severity depends directly upon the intensity of heat and the duration of exposure. Examination of a body found at the site of a conflagration involves the objective determination of the cause of death and identification of the victim. Certain principles of victim identification are peculiar to the fire victim. Weight and height estimations are frequently unreliable due to charring, and unique characteristics such as birthmarks and scars are often destroyed. Generally, teeth and restorations are remarkably resistant to heat and provide valuable information. To determine the cause of death, the examiner must first establish whether the victim was alive at the time of the fire. While the presence of carbon monoxide in the blood is proof of life when the fire started, its absence does not necessarily exclude this possibility. In addition, blood carbon monoxide levels in victims of fire may differ, depending upon victim age and general state of health. Death may be caused by fatal carbon monoxide levels in the blood, inability to breathe, or other causes. The postmortem examination of an explosion victim focuses on the objective determination of victim identification and reconstruction of the fatal events. The general principles of victim identification apply, although they may be complicated by wide dispersion of body parts by the blast. With respect to reconstruction of the event, location and extent of injuries are of foremost significance. Photographs and 10 references are included. For related documents, see NCJ-69731-36 and 69738-47.
Index Term(s): Arson; Autopsy; Criminal investigation; Explosives; Fatalities; Forensic medicine; Medicolegal considerations; Pyrolysis; Victim identification
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