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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Former coroner: Mistake should not have been made

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David MacAnally/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis -  The circumstances involved in the Taylor University crash combined to create a situation where misidentification was a possibility. In that case there were two victims who looked very much alike. However, the victim's family did not visually identify the dead student. 

In a case like that, a former Marion County Coroner says he would have done more than rely on identification made by college staff and the living girl's relatives.

"(There are) two jobs of the coroner: one, to determine the cause and manner of death and two, identify the victim or decedent. In this case I don't think that was done correctly," said Dr. John McGoff.  Dr. McGoff says the proper steps are very important especially with the two women looking so much alike.

"I think you need to use at least dental records. If not use DNA to identify the victims. If there is some disparity or there is something that's inconclusive, then you have to go to the next higher step. We use dental records in Marion County in most of our cases."

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a coroner in the state of Indiana anywhere that's been in office for any length of time that's not had a difficult victim identification," said Rick Dowden, Boone County Coroner.

Dowden recalls a specific case during his 6 years in office. He says it was similar to the Taylor case. "(It involved) a pair of sorority sisters who could have passed for sisters, biological sisters. They're involved in a car accident. One becomes a victim."

Dowden, who is on the Indiana Coroner's Training Board , says the dead girl's family made a visual ID in his case. Others are more complicated. He says: "It's very common for high school age and college-age, especially females, to share clothing, to share jewelry. Those factors would complicate."

In that case he says he would turn to dental records, finger prints, and, as a last resort, DNA.

Coroners in Indiana don't have to be doctors, or even medical people. They don't have to take training. But their deputies must have 40 hours classroom work followed by an internship. They must then take and pass an exam. It's a tough one. Half fail the test the first time.