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First Next of Kin notification.

I was working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift as a Corporal and had just come on duty when the dispatcher notified me of a train verses person accident just a mile away from my home. I responded and found a male about 23 years of age had been hit by a train.

The engineer stated that the man was laying down between the tracks when he first saw him and there was no way to stop the train before hitting him. The train had traveled about half a mile before coming to a stop.

The body was in pretty bad shape and the man was pronounced dead at the scene. We did a crime scene investigation, which included taking pictures of the scene, interviewing all parties involved, taking measurements, etc... The Coroner had come to the scene and pronounced the man dead and then released the body to EMS personnel who transported it to the morgue.

After finishing on the scene we went to the morgue, where blood and urine samples were taken to check for drugs and/or alcohol in the victims body. We also inventoried the personal belongings that were on the body and found his identification.

Next came the notification of the next of kin. The Coroner asked me to call the parents of the man and ask that they allow us to come by and talk to them. It was now about 3:30 a.m. but we needed to do this before the news media reported the death, so that the next of kin would not hear about it on the news.

I called the number we had found for the family and a woman answered the phone, it was obvious that she had been asleep. I identified myself and told her that I needed to come by her residence to talk to her. She asked me what it was in reference to and I told her that it was about her son. She asked if he was in trouble again and I just told her that I would like to talk to her face to face about it. She agreed and gave me directions to her house.

The Coroner and I preceded to the residence. This was my first next of kin notification and I was not looking forward to it. People react in many different ways to news of a tragedy like this. Some react in anger at the person who informs them, others fall apart and still others act almost like nothing has happened. We all have different ways of dealing with grief and emotion.

I walked up to the door and knocked. The father and mother both came to the door. I introduced myself and then introduced the Coroner who was with me. They invited us in and we sat down in the livingroom. I took a deep breath and told them that there had been an accident involving their son. The father looked at me and asked if his son was dead. I answered that he was.

The mother immediately started telling me, "He ain't got no insurance."

The Coroner and I both tried to explain what had happened but she just kept saying over and over that her son did not have any insurance. The father just sat there and nodded his head in agreement. The Coroner told them that there would be an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death, but she just kept saying that he had no insurance. The Coroner, informed them that there would be no cost to them for the autopsy, but it just did not seem to phase them at all.

We asked if there was anyone we could call for them or anything we could do for them, but again the mother just kept repeating over and over again that her son had no insurance. We tried to speak to the husband, but he was looking at the floor, still nodding his head.

The Coroner gave the mother a paper with his name and office number and told her that she could call him in the morning if she had any questions. We quietly got up and left.

It all seemed kind of surreal somehow. We came by in the middle of the night and told them that their son was dead and then just left them in shock, but what could we have done? It is one of the most helpless feelings I have ever had. There is nothing you can say to make the pain or shock any less.

The autopsy showed that the man died of massive internal injuries. It also showed that he was indeed killed by the train hitting him. Several illegal drugs were found in his body in amounts that made it possible that he had passed out on the train tracks. The engineer of the train had also been tested for drugs and alcohol and the tests were negative. No charges were filed, the death was ruled an accident.

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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