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Hernando authorities to use checklist after bones left at suicide scene

BROOKSVILLE — The diagram of the human skeleton looks like a handout from a high school biology course.

But this simple piece of paper is an important new tool to ensure investigators from the Hernando Sheriff's Office and District 5 Medical Examiner do not leave human remains at a scene.

That happened this month after the two agencies responded to the scene of a 20-year-old Brookridge resident's apparent suicide.

"With the new enhanced protocols and procedures we've worked out with the medical examiner, this will not happen again," sheriff's Col. Mike Maurer said Tuesday.

On March 13, a passer-by discovered skeletal remains in a stand of trees between a concrete retaining wall and the white privacy fence on the southern edge of Brookridge.

Detectives and forensics technicians from the Sheriff's Office investigated, and staffers from the Medical Examiner's office arrived about 9:30 p.m., taking the remains to establish the person's identity.

The bones were identified as belonging to Brian Adam Gilley, a deli worker at the nearby Wal-Mart, who lived with his stepfather in Brookridge. Gilley was reported missing on Jan. 18. Officials say he died after hanging himself from a small tree.

Last week, a representative from a local news blog went to the scene, discovered a hand and lower forearm, and called the Sheriff's Office. Investigators returned and collected the remains.

On Monday, Maurer and Sheriff Al Nienhuis met with Dr. Barbara Wolf, the district's medical examiner, and members of her staff to figure out how to prevent another similar oversight.

"No one is totally sure what happened, but the fact still remains we left a significant appendage of the remains, and that's unacceptable," Maurer said.

At any given scene where remains are found, three people share responsibility, Maurer said. Two are from the Sheriff's Office — the lead detective and lead forensics technician — and the third is the medical examiner's investigator.

There has always been informal communication between those officials, said Brett Harding, Wolf's chief forensics investigator. The medical examiner investigator inventories the remains at the scene, then delivers them to the forensic pathologist.

This month's incident exposed the need for representatives from both agencies to create a written record to indicate what has been recovered and what's missing before the scene is cleared, Harding said.

"There was nothing in writing that was a fail-safe," Harding said. "Now we've got a checklist to go down. It will ensure that every effort is being made to recover as many remains as possible."

The investigators from each agency will review and initial the diagram, then send it with the remains to the forensic pathologist. If it's dark outside, as it was in the Gilley case, officials could decide to keep the scene secure until sunrise and conduct another search in the daylight.

"One of the things we were questioning is, why didn't (the medical examiner) call and say, 'Hey, do you have the arm, or do we know if the deceased is an amputee?' " Maurer said.

The Sheriff's Office is in the midst of an internal review to determine any necessary disciplinary action, Maurer said. "This needs to be more of a learning experience, but there's still an expectation that we do a better job than this," he said.

The remains have been released to Gilley's family. His stepfather told the Times last week that he will be laid to rest this week in his native Maryland.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes on Twitter.

Hernando authorities to use checklist after bones left at suicide scene 03/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 8:06pm]
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