Field tests helping Anderson Co. Coroners find clues in deaths

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ANDERSON COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – In a criminal death investigation it can take weeks to get official clues that can crack a case in South Carolina. But one Upstate Coroner’s Office says they have a tool to help get important pieces of the puzzle faster.

“The quicker we can get answers to families, the better we feel about it,” said Deputy Coroner Don McCown with the Anderson County Coroner’s Office. “Our ultimate job is to find out the truth and the facts of the person’s death.”

On some of the worst days for upstate families, coroners are one of the first there to find out what went wrong.

The first several hours in an investigation are crucial and now, the Anderson County Coroner’s Office says they’re more mobile and hands on than ever.

They have tools, like mobile drug and alcohol field testing kits that can give them clues to how a person died, early on. While the tests don’t give them official results, it can lead their investigation in the right direction. For instance, if a deceased person tests without drugs or alcohol in their system, investigators can look deeper into other options.

“It helps us all focus on which path we need to take. Sometimes we have to look at a family and tell them this is what we think happened and it gives them some closure,” McCown said. “Even if they have to wait on the official results, they can say ‘they think this is what is happening in the preliminary investigation and I’m prepared for that.”

It used to take them hours to get those results because they had to wait on the hospital. Now the kits test for 10 types of drugs in a person’s urine and a separate one for alcohol within 5 minutes on the scene. It is also saving them money. The hospital tests cost around $200 for each one and now, they only cost $6.

“If you put all of those puzzles and pieces together than you can come down to a pretty good conclusion about what happened and what time it happened,” McCown added. “But it will never be 100 percent because this field is never 100 percent.”

The state still requires a toxicology report as evidence.  But the coroner’s office says these quick results can lead an investigation in the right direction and bring some sort of closure to a questioning, grieving family.

The kits are ordered from a supply company by the case. The coroner’s office is also now helping other coroners around the state use the field tests.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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