Mud slide victims died quickly of blunt force trauma

by: Chris Legeros Updated:

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Oso, Wash. —

Charts and maps line the walls of the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office as bodies are located, mapped, and retrieved from the Oso mudslide. 

The deputy director, David Peterson said his office has never dealt with this many deaths caused by the crushing weight of earth, trees and debris.

Peterson said, “We’ve not seen this in this magnitude, you know, this is really something that’s overwhelmed us.” 

Just like the searchers sifting through the debris field, the victims have to be carefully washed and decontaminated in tents before they enter the medical examiner's office. 

Then the remains pass into a room with three work stations for autopsies. At times, all three of those stations have been in use. 

Spokesman Ed Troyer said, “All are deceased from blunt force trauma, nobody drowned, there’s not been an air pocket.  This was instantaneous.”  

The slide's force was so great that in some cases, just parts of victims have been recovered. Investigators are using dental records, medical X-rays, fingerprints, and in one or two cases, DNA tests to identify human remains. 

Detectives have interviewed families member for clues.

Ed Troyer said, “They’ve got a huge spreadsheet where they can contact family members and can find out broken bones, types of piercings, types of tattoos.” 

The medical examiner, Dr. Norman Thiersch said, “These are methodical, painstaking processes that we go through.”  

So far, the identification of just one man remains a complete mystery. His name is not on the list of those missing and unaccounted for.

Troyer said, “We can’t determine age because of the condition of the body, but we do know that the body’s had extensive dental work, including gold crowns and gold teeth.”

Troyer also emphasized that human remains recovered from the slide have been treated with dignity and respect.