Airdate: Jan 19, 2010
Scientist: Mo Lupia
Kids' Science Challenge: Forensics - Crash Case
When alcohol or drugs are involved in an auto accident, the driver's identity is not always evident. So how do you find out who really was driving the car?
music; ambience investigation scene sounds
JM: Each year, auto accidents claim the lives of some 40,000 Americans. In many cases, it's the driver who's killed. But sometimes it takes a bit of detective work to make that determination. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Mo Lupia is an investigator at the Wallie Howard Jr. Center for Forensic Science in Syracuse, NY. He's often called in to the scene when it's unclear who was sitting in the driver's seat.
ML: If alcohol or drugs are involved and both people are thrown from the vehicle, one person lives, the other person dies. Generally, when law enforcement asks the survivor who was operating the vehicle at the time, they always say it was the deceased person that was driving the car .
JM: It's up to investigators like Mo Lupia to search for and collect trace evidence, that's delivered to a forensic laboratory for testing.
ML: Very often that's done by looking for biological substances. It's not uncommon for blood or fibers from clothing or hair from an individual to be deposited on the airbag. The same goes for when they're not wearing seatbelts and they exit a window; hairs, fibers, blood spatter is deposited at the points of exit. Those are brought back to the lab and analyzed by the forensic scientists, and we try to match those items to the individuals to try and establish what their position in the vehicle was at the time of the accident.
JM: Not all forensic investigations involve violence and death. The tools of forensic science can be used to catch a thief, identify a note, or even determine the identity of the animal that's eating the vegetables in your garden. If a child you know has a homemade mystery to solve, have them check out the Kids' Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th gradersmade possible by the National Science Foundation. That's at kidsciencechallenge.com.