Coroner's office faces difficulties in ID'ing the dead - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU


Coroner's office faces difficulties in ID'ing the dead

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Assistant Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg admits the people who work in his office don't always have an easy job.

"Knocking on their door, and we go up to them and tell them that their son or daughter or mother or father has passed away," Fudenberg told FOX5.

But it's a job that helps solves countless murders, manslaughters and causes of death for almost every case in the county.

"Most of our staff will tell you that even though we deal with death on a daily basis, we're really in the business of life," Fudenberg said.

This office handles the first step in any investigation, identifying the person who died.

Typically, Fudenberg said that's done the same way it happens with the living, through fingerprints.

But as we've seen in cases from Christopher Dorner in the cabin in Big Bear, CA, to the taxi cab explosion on the Las Vegas Strip last week, fires and extreme heat ruin skin tissue, making those prints impossible to get for medical examiners.

"A decedent that does have significant thermal injuries fingerprints are very difficult to obtain," Fudenberg said.

So the medical examiners will turn to something that's unique to every individual, their bite.

"We'll talk to their families, and we'll track down their dental records, you know, we go back years and years," Fudenberg said.

With millions of visitors coming to Las Vegas each year, medical examiners have gotten good at tracking down dental records across the nation and the globe.

"We have very good relationships with the consulate offices with different countries. We deal with international cases on a regular basis," Fudenberg said.

Clark County medical examiners see between eight to 15 bodies every day.

And respect for those they're working on is a high priority, which is why a sign in front of the main examination room reminds all employees to treat the body as if the person's family were present at all times.

After all, Fudenberg said the Coroner's office has a task which really benefits the living more than the dead.

"We serve the families of the decedent. If we can help them through one of the most difficult times of their life, that is a very rewarding process for us," Fudenberg said.

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