Crime Scene Investigator Diver Technologist International
Mack S. House Jr.
Case for Reference:
This case is an actual case that occurred in the United States; however, the following is an example of a more suited approach to reflect some of the CSIDTI training required in conducting this level of investigation.
A suspected homicide that may involve victims of unknown age has occurred. The C.S.I.D.T. Team has been called in by the CSI at three a.m. to investigate the possibility of children being the victims of an “accidental” drowning/possible homicide.
Upon arrival to the scene, the designated person in charge (D.P.I.C) consulted the Police Officer in charge of the scene while the C.S.I.D.T. team began a pre-dive briefing and job hazard evaluation. The C.S.I.D.T. Team did not approach the crime scene and therefore the surface support vessel was not placed into the water until the ramp was thoroughly searched by the Police Departments CSI Team. The type and size of the vehicle was determined by the CSI team to be a mid size sedan. The CSI in charge of the scene asked the dispatcher to send a “CSI roll back" tow truck, which meant that the driver on call for the Teams had undergone specialized training which included OSHA regulations, would bring one with specialized attachment devices.
In this investigation, the CSI and C.S.I.D.T. Teams had thoroughly trained designated tow truck drivers, who would respond to specific investigations, safety protocols (OSHA) and Team protocols. The tow truck was to be stationed well away from the scene until called for by the Police Officer or CSI in charge of the scene.
Crowd control and news media had not yet become a problem. The Police Officer had two additional officers posted at the entrance of the facility to prevent anyone from entering the scene area and also had two law enforcement surface vessels in route from another area of the lake to secure the search area.
The Police Department CSI Team had processed the scene including the boat ramp to the water’s edge. Once their processing was completed, the CSI Team advised the C.S.I.D.T. Team to begin their investigation procedures.
To conduct the search of the boat ramp below the surface, two divers were used and were accompanied by both diver tenders and standby divers. All safety equipment was checked including current direction and approximate speed. The initial underwater search consisted of twenty feet down the ramp and twenty feet on either side of the ramp in order to clear the area of any evidence. The vehicle including any evidence was not located during this phase of the search.
At that point, the surface support vessel was lowered into the water by way of the boat ramp. The C.S.I.D.T. team conducted another pre-dive plan and job hazard evaluation.
The following conditions were noted.
The maximum depth in this search area would range from twenty-six feet (at the end of the boat ramp) to a depth of eighty-eight feet 100 yards from the end of the pier. GPS was used as a reference and documented per protocol.
The water temperature would range from 76 (surface) degrees F. to 62 degrees F. (bottom). Visibility was unknown at the lower depths but was approximately three feet during the first search. The C.S.I.D.T. diving helmet lighting was used to illuminate the search area.
The next search pattern would begin at the end point of the first search area, which would extend the search another sixty feet outward while maintaining the
twenty-foot search area on either side of the boat ramp's center. “Low light”,
similar to solar powered walkway lighting, illuminated markers were used to
document (Photograph) the search area in conjunction with a topographical map of
Within a short period, the surface support vessel was in position. After side scan sonar evaluation of the area was completed, the anchoring line was attached to the last pier piling. This procedure minimizes the risk of having an anchor disturb the scene should it land near the vehicle. An additional anchoring line was taken out fifty yards and upward (against the current) fifty yards to ensure safe placement. The anchor is always lowered hand over hand, not thrown in order to detect any sizeable object. This places the surface support vessel in a “static” position eliminating tidal swing and minimizes vessel movement. A GPS was used to document the position of the surface support vessel as required by C.S.I.D.T. protocol.
The dive plan was established and all team members were given their assignments. The job hazard evaluation did include possibility of entanglement and sharp object contact due to the debris found in previous training dives (C.S.I.D.T. Log Book) near this particular location. The divers were checked before entry into the water including their Alternate Air Source Safety System. Upon reaching the bottom, the communications operator was informed of each divers air pressure reading, depth (88feet) and water temperature, which was 58 degrees F?
Evaluation: Depth, 88 feet, water temperature 58 F. The U.S.Navy dive tables indicate that the Maximum Bottom Time is 30 minutes, using the 90 feet depth (No Decompression Limits). When the divers reach a 20-minute bottom time; they will be instructed to begin their ascent. They will have a five-minute safety stop at thirty-five feet and a two-minute safety stop at ten feet. This time frame will give them a total of twenty-seven minutes total bottom time.
The vehicle was located at a depth of 72 feet, at its deepest point, [verified by depth gauge and sonar reading]. The position of the vehicle was as follows:
The vehicle came to rest on the bottom in the upright position.
The front of the vehicle was pointing 287 degrees (compass) magnetic.
Two illuminated markers were sent to the surface designating the vehicle location. Marker one (1) had two luminaries designating the front of the vehicle and marker two (2) had one luminaries designating rear of vehicle.
The angle of the vehicle from front to back was approximately 35 degrees.
The angle of the vehicle from driver side to passenger side was approximately 17 degrees.
The sediment level on the bottom of the lake at this location was found to average from six and one half inches (front portion of vehicle) to fourteen inches (rear portion of vehicle).
The hood of the vehicle was bent from side to side measuring 22 inches from base of windshield on driver side to 27 ¾ inches from base of windshield on passenger side. The hood was in the closed and locked position.
Front bumper was visible and without obvious damage.
Rear bumper was dented on passenger side (22 ¾ inches from end of bumper) measuring 3 ¾ inches in height and 4 1/8 inches in width, approximate.
Front tires were partially covered in 4" (four inches approximate) of sediment from bottom portion of tire.
Rear tires were partially covered in 9” (nine inches approximate) of sediment from bottom portion of tire.
All four tires appeared to be fully inflated.
The driver side (front and rear) doors were in the closed position and locked.
The driver side front and rear door windows were closed and unbroken.
The driver side of the vehicle had obvious scratches (lengthwise) between the wheel well (front) to the wheel well at the (rear).
The trunk of the vehicle was closed and locked.
The passenger side of the vehicle did not show signs of damage.
The passenger side doors (front and rear) were closed and locked.
The passenger side door windows (front and rear) were closed and unbroken.
The inside of the vehicle was totally flooded with the exception of a small space (approximately one to two cubic feet) of air at the upper portion of the rear window, which was undamaged.
The transmission selector (console) was in the neutral position and the keys were in the ignition, however none of the instrument or headlights was illuminated.
The front seat of the vehicle was empty with the seat belt (driver side) in the "stored" position.
The front floorboard did not contain any items other than floor matt’s, which were resting in a side-to-side position instead of front to back.
Two children occupied the rear seat of the vehicle, approximately one to two years of age.
One child (closest to the passenger side) was wearing overalls (blue jeans) with a light colored long sleeve shirt.
The child was in the supine position (on the back) with both arms extended (toward the driver side rear door). There was no physical injury noted at that time. Both of the child’s hands were in the “position of function” reaching forward.
The second child (next to the driver side door) was in the prone position (face down) with arms and hands under the body and out of view.
The second child was wearing red colored pants and a dark colored long sleeve shirt. The left shoe was missing and the left sock was partially removed. There was no apparent injury noted and facial features could not be seen due to the child's position. There was no visible evidence of marine life inside the vehicle.
The windshield was intact and undamaged.
The top of the vehicle was undamaged.
There was no evidence found from the water’s edge to the resting position of the vehicle. Search of the area did not disclose vehicle contact with the bottom prior to the position in which the vehicle was found.
The vehicle was not touched by CSDT during photographic [77 frames] and measurement  documentation procedures as required by CSDT protocol.
Question: what would your next course of action be?
Photographs and video documentation was done in accordance with TEAM protocol. In compliance with the Team Safety Standards, the divers returned to the Surface Support Vessel, leaving the scene undisturbed. The Police Officer in charge of the scene and on scene CSI’s were notified and per protocol the Medical Examiner was called by cell phone and advised of the situation. The Police Officer in charge of the investigation and CSI were informed of the findings. Operations were suspended until the Medical Examiner arrived at the scene and transported to the Surface Support Vessel by Law Enforcements support vessel. A debriefing of the divers and communications person was done and the following procedure was implemented.
The next set of divers was fitted with "on line" cameras (closed circuit) mounted to each of their helmets (EXO-26). Once the divers arrived at the scene, the Medical Examiner gave direction as to the views she needed and distances. VCR recorded the camera views and all voice communication. Additional photographs (still shots) were taken as directed by the Medical Examiner during this process.
Once photographic and video documentation was completed to the satisfaction of the Medical Examiner, the vehicle could be recovered. One of the Safety Officers from the Team was assigned to the tow truck before any action by the driver of the tow truck was permitted.
The Team Safety Officer would instruct the driver of the tow truck as to when to operate the cable winch.
The tow truck was positioned and a “Safe Zone” was established. The cable from the tow truck was attached to a safety line and taken to the surface support vessel by Law Enforcement surface support. The hook end of the cable was affixed to a carabineer, attached to the anchor line and lowered to the bottom.
The cable would then be taken off of the anchor line by the C.S.I.D.T. and extended (at the direction of the lead diver to the Safety Officer) until the hook end reached the rear portion of the submerged vehicle. Once the cable was affixed, using a modified locking hook, to a safe "pull point" of the vehicle, all divers would returned to the deck of the surface support vessel and the safety officer would be notified that all diving personnel were on deck and clear.
Once a "clear area" was verified, the Safety Officer at the tow truck was notified and the vehicle was pulled toward the boat ramp at a slow rate. Once the vehicle "broke the surface" on the boat ramp, the tow cable was stopped and the vehicle was allowed to stabilize.
Safety lines were affixed to the vehicle and the tires were chalked. The tow truck was unhooked and repositioned. The Medical Examiner was returned to the boat ramp by Law Enforcement surface support and assisted in the vehicle movement procedure from that point. The tow cable was re-attached to the tow point of the vehicle and the chalks were removed and the vehicle was pulled clear of the water. The vehicle was once again chalked and the strain on the tow cable was relaxed but not unhooked. The safety officer and CSI Team checked the stability of the vehicle before any personnel were allowed in close proximity. At this point, the CSI Team and all personnel who were involved in processing the vehicle were gloved prior to approaching the vehicle. Then and only then, were additional photographs taken at the discretion of the Medical Examiner by the CSI and C.S.I.D.T. Teams.
When that sequence of photographs was completed, a "slim-Jim" was used by the CSI Team to unlock the driver side door being careful not to disturb any potential evidence areas. The rear door was then unlocked and the position of the children was documented at the direction of the Medical Examiner and CSI Team.
At the discretion of the Medical Examiner, the children were removed from the vehicle and placed in the containers for transport to the Medical Examiners office (morgue).
This procedure was videotaped as well as (35mm/digital) Photographed for documentation as well as evidence and procedure.
The vehicle was transported to the law enforcement crime lab at the discretion of the CSI Team. The C.S.I.D.T. Team was debriefed and critiqued as soon as the job was completed. All video tapes, 35mm film, digital photographs and evidence were documented and placed in the "authorized chain of custody" as mandated by protocol.
It is obvious that all of the necessary procedures and steps involved in this recovery process are not included in the above scenario. The purpose is to provide a general idea as to the importance of teamwork, methodical crime scene investigation and safe diving practices. The responsibility of each diver regarding the "Medical Legal" aspect involved with any recovery process is profound and not to be taken lightly. As mentioned before, confidentiality is not a negotiable issue.