The forensic investigation of Arotile’s case
Continued from yesterdy’s backpage
The Police are required to question the surviving driver and any other occupant of the vehicle while satisfying other legal requirements such as fitness to be interviewed or ensuring that such interview, or the making of any statement is done after the interviewee has been read his rights. Ideally the medical history and any relevant medications being used by the driver must be recorded by the Police.
The Police doctor is expected to assess the physical and mental state of the driver through accepted medical examination processes, having secured informed consent or obtaining appropriate authorisation depending on the prevailing statutory requirements.
Finally, biological fluids which is usually urine, is collected for toxicological studies; the possible presence or absence of alcohol or other drugs of abuse must be determined. In some situations, the driver would have been breathalysed while at the scene of the accident or while at the Police Station. Where indicated, the driver might require psychological evaluation as long as there are statutory provisions that permit this type of evaluation.
Postmortem Examination of the Victim
As earlier stated, the death of a pedestrian following a vehicular accident is a reportable death that must be investigated. That is the least that any government owes her citizens. Such investigations make a postmortem examination mandatory and it requires no family consent. Giving the excuse that the family objected simply plays into the hands of conspiracy theorists. It is a big shame that in the case of Flt. Off. Arotile, the NAF decided to refer the matter to the Police for investigation after burying the body! I was greatly saddened as a forensic pathologist when I heard the announcement that no autopsy was performed. Many of my other professional colleagues, junior anatomic pathologists and trainees were equally alarmed; it was unbelievable that this would happen in Nigeria in this century.
Where indicated and perhaps ideally, the forensic pathologist needs to be armed with the past medical history of the victim, including medications being currently used. This is mandatory where the victim survived for some time in hospital; the hospital notes must be carefully perused by the pathologist.
Postmortem examination is normally commenced by conducting a radiological (X-ray) examination. The body is examined for skeletal (bone) injuries, possible determination of the angle of impact, and assessment for the presence or absence of any foreign object such a missile (bullet). This simple examination will enable the establishment to debunk any unfounded conspiracy theory that the victim was shot, killed and then thrown underneath a vehicle.
The next thing is to identify the body of the deceased including documenting basic external features that will further aid identification. The next course of examination is fully photographed, and where available videography is added.
The clothes are gently examined for any rent, presence or absence of trace evidence like glass, car paint, grease or tyre marks. The location and orientation of these materials must be noted. The clothes are then carefully removed, dried and sent to the forensic laboratory for examination.
The body is fully examined externally to determine the type, location and concentration of injuries. Where a victim has been struck by the vehicle’s bumper this must be identified and attention paid to its level above the sole of the feet. The forensic pathologist should be able to determine the position of the victim at the time of the impact, whether the vehicle was accelerating or decelerating at the time of the impact, and whether the victim was stationary, walking or running at the time of the impact. The part of the body that was first struck by the vehicle and other secondary impacts due to being flung onto the road surface, kerb, walkway or roadside objects; these must be documented. Injuries caused by the side mirror, and protrusions from inside the vehicle such as cargo must be determined where present. Other injuries attributable to roll overs and being dragged underneath the vehicle must be identified. Where the victim was underneath the rolling tyre of the vehicle, a splayed injury is often seen on the body in addition to tyre, oil and grease marks. It is not uncommon for the driver to have fled the scene with the car, but where the latter is subsequently recovered, the victim’s DNA material might still be recovered from underneath the vehicle.
Examination of the internal organs might reveal various injuries in addition to any internal bleeds. The location and degree of the injuries might help to determine the point of impact; attention must be paid to injuries due to secondary impacts while also being mindful of brain injuries seen on the side opposite to the point of impact to the skull. It is noteworthy that both blunt and sharp force injuries can be seen but these might not necessarily be due to a motor vehicular accident. The onus is on the forensic pathologist to correctly interpret these injuries and determine the possible causation.
It is important for the pathologist to collect samples of biological fluids such as blood, urine, fluid of the eye, bile, and other samples like stomach content, from the victim for toxicological examination. A pedestrian under the influence of drugs or alcohol might have walked into the path of a moving vehicle. It is also possible that due to the effect of intoxicants, the pedestrian might have been slow in reacting and avoiding an approaching vehicle due to the slowed reaction time. Absence of these drugs eliminates a possible defence of contributory negligence on the part of the victim; of course the Courts are equally mindful of the principle of ‘eggshell skull’ where the assailant has to take his victim as he finds him.
During autopsy, the pathologist is required to take tissue samples for processing in the laboratory, after which he now examines the slides under the microscope to assess the injuries due to the vehicular accident. This stage of the examination is also important as it helps to further confirm whether or not the body is showing any vital reaction. The latter is absent if the victim had died prior to being thrown on the road or under a moving vehicle.
It is at the conclusion of the postmortem examination that a cause of death can be determined and ultimately, the manner of death. Armed with information from the locus, the vehicle and full postmortem examination, the forensic pathologist in the commentary portion of his report, will try to reconstruct the accident that happened, and how the victim came about sustaining the alleged injuries that resulted in death. The commentary will also attempt to answer the medico-legal questions bordering on the cause and manner of death.
Provided above, is information about the least that is expected in the medico-legal investigation of fatal road traffic accident involving a pedestrian. The question now is whether or not these were done in the case of Flt. Off. Tolulope Arotile? If not, why did we fail to do the right thing? Why did the establishment provide ammunition to conspiracy theorists? Are we incapable of doing the right thing as a nation?
Is Nigeria really cursed? Can we witness a better Nigeria in our lifetime?
Prof. Obafunwa, former Vice Chancellor LASU, anatomic/forensic pathologist, department of pathology and forensic medicine, Lagos State University College of Medicine.
The forensic investigation of Arotile case
By John Oladapo Obafunwa
No comments yet