Water-Related Death Investigation: Practical Methods and Forensic Applications, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Water-Related Death Investigation

Practical Methods and Forensic Applications, 1st Edition

By Kevin L. Erskine, Erica J. Armstrong

CRC Press

388 pages | 222 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781439816363
pub: 2010-10-25
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pub: 2010-10-25
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All too often, police called to the scene of a water-related death may consider it an accidental drowning before they even arrive. But the investigation of these types of deaths requires the same careful and thorough documentation as in other potentially non-natural deaths and these efforts must be carried through all stages of investigation. Water-Related Death Investigation: Practical Methods and Forensic Applications merges the essentials of field investigation with the best practices involved in evidence collection, autopsy performance, and laboratory testing on the deceased involved in a water-related death.

Tracking the case process from the scene to the autopsy to the courtroom, this volume examines:

  • The physiology of drowning
  • Investigative duties of those called to the scene, including securing the scene, searching for evidence, evidence recovery, and body assessment
  • Investigative characteristics of various selected scenes, including submerged vehicles, scuba fatalities, pool drowning, erotic drowning, and boating accidents
  • Obtaining decedent, witness, suspect, and first responder information
  • Pre-trial preparation for the field investigator, including exhibits, testimony, and video and audio recording
  • The medicolegal autopsy
  • The forensic pathological and toxicological aspects of deaths due to drowning and bodies recovered from fluid environments.

Water-related death investigation involves a continuum of activities performed by a number of trained professionals. This volume demonstrates how the best collective efforts of all individuals involved in the investigation of a water-related death may help to illuminate the truth of the circumstances and unearth any criminality.

Table of Contents

Introduction; E. J. Armstrong, MD

Drowning: A Diagnosis of Exclusion

Drowning Statistics

The Drowning Process

Importance of a Good Scene Investigation

The Role of the Coroner/Medical Examiner in Medicolegal Death Investigation

Investigative Duties on Scene; K. L. Erskine

Securing the Scene

Determining Scene Boundaries

Documenting the Scene

Search for Evidence

Significance of the Absence or Presence of Clothing or Other Coverings on the Body

Investigative Characteristics of Selected Scenes

On-Scene Body Assessment; K. L. Erskine and E. J. Armstrong, MD


Postmortem Wandering

General Body Assessment

Ocular Changes

Foam Column/Foam Cone

Rigor Mortis (Rigidity)

Livor Mortis (Lividity)

Lividity vs. Bruising (Contusion)

Algor Mortis

Physical Wounding of the Body




Fingerprinting the Deceased in Water-Related Deaths

Case Investigation: Obtaining Decedent, Witness, Suspect, and First Responder Information; K. L. Erskine

Decedent Information

Determining Accuracy of Statements Obtained at Scene

Nonverbal Communication

Why People Lie and How They Attempt to Conceal It

Child Witnesses

Interviews of Rescue and Recovery Personnel

Pretrial Preparation for the Field Investigator; K. L. Erskine

Incident Report

Chain of Evidence and Exhibits

Pretrial Interviews

Eyewitness Testimony vs. Circumstantial Evidence

Child Witnesses

Expert Witnesses

Video and Audio Recordings

Testifying in Court: Credibility, Appearance, and Demeanor

Criminal vs. Civil Proceedings

Case Studies

Medicolegal Investigation of Deaths: Initial Processing; E. J. Armstrong, MD

The Medicolegal Autopsy; E. J. Armstrong, MD


External Examination: General Information

Internal Examination


Application of Medicine and Pathology to Law: The Forensic Pathologist as an Expert Witness

Asphyxia; E. J. Armstrong, MD

The Forensic Pathological Aspects of Deaths Due to Drowning and Bodies Recovered from Fluid Environments; E. J. Armstrong, MD


Water-Related Deaths: Initial Processing

The Autopsy and the Diagnosis of Drowning and Other Water-Related Injury

The Forensic Toxicological Aspects of Deaths Due to Drowning and Bodies Recovered from Fluid Environments; E. J. Armstrong, MD



Psychiatric Medications

Illicit Drugs and Medications

Carbon Monoxide

Water-Related Deaths by Manner; E. J. Armstrong, MD

Homicidal Water-Related Deaths

Suicidal Water-Related Deaths

Accidental Water-Related Deaths

Natural Water-Related Deaths

Undetermined Water-Related Deaths

Appendix A

Appendix B: Body Drop Rate Chart

Appendix C: Body Recovery Checklist and Automobile

Appendix D: Sample Autopsy Report

Appendix E: You Make the Call


About the Authors

Erica J. Armstrong, MD, is a Forensic Pathologist for the Office of the Cuyahoga County Coroner in Cleveland, Ohio. Kevin L. Erskine is a Master Criminal Investigator for the Cleveland Lakefront State Park Police.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Forensic Science
MEDICAL / Pathology