Identification of unidentified remains is a primary function of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. In order to more efficiently accomplish this task, the office has created the Human Identification Laboratory. Headed by a full-time forensic odontologist, the laboratory staff also includes a full-time forensic anthropologist and fingerprint examiner. Unidentified remains are examined systematically using fingerprints, dental records, anthropological studies and DNA technology making use of local, state and national databases in an effort to establish a positive identity for the decedent and provide closure to the their families.
Forensic dentists deal with a range of medicolegal problems. Identification of the human remains from natural disasters, terrorist activities and missing and unknown persons is a central activity. The postmortem dental examination of human remains usually involves charting dental and cranial features, radiographic (x-ray) documentation of these features, and forensic report-writing regarding case findings. Dental identification plays a particularly important role in the identification of victims of catastrophic events where there are massive casualties such as airplane crashes (e.g., Pan Am flight 103, American Airlines flight 587), fires, floods, earthquakes and terrorist attacks (e.g., Oklahoma City Federal Building, World Trade Center, etc.).
Bones comprise the structural framework of the human body. Due to their properties, bones decompose more slowly than many other tissues and organs; thus, they are often capable of providing clues that assist examiners in determining the cause and manner of death. Skeletal remains can provide information such as the race, stature, weight, age and gender of the decedent. Evidence of trauma or natural disease may also be identified. Radiograph (X-ray) comparisons can help establish scientifically the identity of a body. Samples of DNA can also be obtained from bone; thus, in cases where decomposition is advanced significantly, DNA analysis can still be of value. Tarrant County has the only comprehensive forensic anthropology laboratory in Texas attached to a medical examiner’s office.
Roger Metcalf is a graduate of Baylor University and Baylor College of Dentistry. He completed a Fellowship in Forensic Odontology at the Center for Education and Research in Forensics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Dental School under Dr. David Senn. He received the J.D. degree from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in 2009. Roger has been a member of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Mass Fatality Dental Identification Team since it was established by Dr. Rodney Crow in 1980, and participated in identification of victims from the Delta 191 and 1141 crashes at DFW Ariport and from the Mt. Carmel incident in Waco, TX. Since joining the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's District in 2004, Roger has supervised the forensic identification of more than 300 unidentified bodies per year. Roger is commissioned as a Lt. Colonel in the DFW Medical Ranger Group, Medical Reserve Corps, Texas Medical Brigade, Texas State Guard. He is also an active member of the Wesleyan Innocence Project, a group that reviews possible exoneration cases for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office.
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