Dimond And Sons, Silver Bell Chapel

Your Questions


My 16 year old daughter was killed in a car accident prom 98. A drunk hit her car and she went into a flooded field. He left, making it hard for the rescuers to find her car. She was in the water nearly two hours. Her brother, sisters and father refused an autopsy. Now I wonder if she died on impact or drowned. Coroner stated cause of death; probable drowning. The funeral director told me that she did not have signs of drowning. He said water usually comes out of body orifaces, for quite some time. He said she had just a little water coming out of one ear. My son saw her when they finally found the car. She had a small stream of blood from her nose, her neck was also very swollen. What I want to know is, what are the signs of drowning? Was I just told that to think she may have been killed at impact? Also, I heard afterwards that I could have dressed her and done her hair. I know that may sound sick to some, but she was my child. I could have and wanted to do this for her. Legally does a parent have a right to participate in the dressing of their children? My husband was killed 20 months later, also by a drunk, he was run over and dragged. Because she left the scene, the state trooper wanted to send him to Memphis; he assured me just to wash him and look for things like bullet holes or knife wounds; things other than a hit and run. I understood that and agreed. When he was ready for viewing I was allowed to be alone with him. I was touching him and I felt plastic and guaze on him. I asked the director and he told me that was normal for persons who were autopsied. I said he was not suppose to have an autopsy, because my husband always said he would not want that done to him. The trooper apologized and said he was not sent for full autopsy but it was performed by mistake. How can people be assured that their wishes are carried out at a time like this? The trooper showed me where he filled out the paper; no autopsy. I would think that people who were working with remains would be more careful to follow writtin instructions. Are mistakes like these common? What can one do to be sure that autopsies are not performed?
I am not a pathologist or forensic investigator so I am not qualified to list all of the signs of drowning, but, of course, one of the most obvious is water in the lungs. This is the kind of situation where, I believe, there should have been an autopsy. The issue is, what was the cause of death; and, no one really knows. If you don't mind I would really like to deal with the autopsy issue since is is a thread that runs through the entire problem you relate.

In many states, including Arizona, the decision to perform an autopsy in any case falling under the jurisdiction of the coroner or medical examiner is completely discretionary. I believe that is the way it should be. If you read other comments in these pages it should be pretty clear that I usually stand for everything that will help families deal with the deaths of loved ones. God knows, you have had to carry an extremely heavy burden. The investigating pathologist should not be restricted from performing an autopsy if one is needed. A very large number of criminal prosecutions in this state would fall apart without forensic testimony detailing autopsy results and findings. If there had been an autopsy performed on your daughter you would not have the questions you posed here. If an autopsy had not been performed on your husband it is very likely that there could be no possible way to prosecute the offender. Autopsies are not evil! They are an important tool in resolving issues surrounding homicides and accidents. Whenever there is a serious question about the cause of death an autopsy is an essential part of the investigation, and ultimately, the family's ability to move on with things and recover from the loss, KNOWING what really happened. I don't know anything about Tennessee law, but I'm willing to bet that the coroner had the right to perform the autopsy without family permission. Without it, the defendant's lawyer could well argue that your husband was not killed by the defendant but was already dead when struck by the car. Sound ridiculous? It isn't. The defense, knowing the autopsy results can not argue that the victim had just had a heart attack and was falling down from that incident when struck. They already know the testimony of the pathologist will document blunt force trauma or other trauma which caused the death - hence, no reasonable doubt for the jury.

I hope this line of reasoning does not upset you and hope you see the logic of why your question makes the case for an autopsy in such situations.

Now, as to the dressing of your daughter. I know of no law in any state of the United States which prevents a mother from dressing a child. In fact, when we have a family who wants to dress one of their own we see it as an act of love and do everything possible to make it easy for them. It is even part of the death ritual for some religions because it can be so helpful. It's not for everyone, but I don't believe funeral directors should interfere with such requests. Sometimes there are traumatic injuries they would not otherwise see and it's hard on them. But, I AM NOT GOD, nor am I the restorative art police. It would probably have done you far more good to participate than be excluded. Just my opinion.

I hope I have answered your questions and wish you well. Most people do not have to shoulder this kind of a load. Good Luck and I hope my answers will help you find some peace.



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Copyright©1998 by Donald C. Dimond II