CSU, Chico News

CSU, Chico Forensic Scientists Assist in San Bruno Fire Recovery

Date: 09-22-2010

Kathleen McPartland
Eric Bartelink
CSU, Chico Human Identification Laboratory

On Sunday, Sept. 12, forensic anthropology faculty took a team of students to the site of the Sept. 9 San Bruno explosions and fires, at the request of the San Mateo Coroner’s Office. Forensic scientists Eric Bartelink, Colleen Milligan and Turhon Murad, all with the California State University, Chico Human Identification Laboratory, took 13 students and one recent alum to assist with the fire scene recovery. They were joined by San Francisco State University forensic anthropology faculty members Mark Griffin, Ph.D. and Cynthia Wilczak, Ph.D.

The group left Chico at 5:30 a.m. to assist in the forensic archaeological excavation of a house. The group used archaeological methods—trowels, screens, brushes, etc.—to carefully uncover debris to find evidence of human remains. “In fire scene cases,” said Bartelink, “the intensity of the fire may result in remains being burned and fragmented to the point where the average person wouldn’t recognize what they were looking at.”

The archeological methods, said Bartelink, help to maximize the recovery of human remains. This is important, he said, to increase the likelihood of finding items, such as dental remains, that can be useful for making a positive identification.

The group arrived in San Bruno by 9 a.m. and worked continuously sifting through debris until 7 p.m. The mission was successful, said Bartelink. Many agencies, including local police and fire rescue teams, the San Mateo’s Coroner’s Office and the National Transportation and Safety Board cooperated in the effort.

Eric Bartelink, Ph.D., is the director of the Human Identification Laboratory at CSU, Chico. He worked on international forensic cases in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the victim identification effort after the World Trade Center disaster.

Colleen Milligan recently completed her Ph.D. at Michigan State University and is a new faculty member at CSU, Chico. She has worked internationally on bioarchaeological projects in both the United Kingdom and Belize. While at MSU, she worked on policy development related to mass fatalities within the United States as part of a fellowship with the Department of Homeland Security.

Turhon Murad, Ph.D., DABFA, professor emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at CSU, Chico, is a physical anthropologist with academic interests in skeletal biology and forensic anthropology and has worked with local and federal law enforcement on cases from around the western United States. He developed the Human Identification Lab at CSU, Chico.