Manner of Death Determination in Fire Fatalities: 5-Year Autopsy Data of Istanbul City

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Abstract

Death resulting from burns is an important social problem and a frequent accident. However, because approximately 10% of cases are estimated to result from a fire that was deliberately started, all fire-related deaths should be treated as suspicious, and the cause of a fire should be investigated. For the bodies recovered from the scene of a fire, the manner of death could also be suicide or homicide. The objective of this study was to contribute to the clarification of controversial data present in the literature on the manner of death determination of fire-related deaths, through evaluation of autopsy findings of bodies recovered from fires. We reviewed 20,135 autopsies performed in a 5-year period, in Istanbul, as the whole autopsy data of the city and found 133 fire-related deaths. The death scene investigation reports and other judicial documents, autopsy findings, and toxicological analysis results were evaluated to determine the parameters of age, sex, level of the burn, vital signs [red flare; soot in the lower respiratory tract, esophagus, and/or stomach; and screening of carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) levels in the blood], toxicological substances, presence of accelerants, cause of death, and manner of death. The manner of death was determined to be an accident in 98 (73.7%) and homicide in 12 (9%) cases, whereas there was no suicide. In addition, it could not be determined in 23 (17.2%) cases. In accidental deaths, the most frequent cause of death was COHb poisoning with statistically significant blood COHb levels greater than 10%. Further, the presence of soot in the lower respiratory tract, esophagus, and/or stomach and the existence of at least 1 or 2 vital signs together were found to be valid deterministic criteria with statistical significance in terms of identifying the manner of death.

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