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Just another railway fatality

Abstract

We report on a 56-year-old male who was found dead on railroad tracks, equipped with overhead high-voltage power lines (15,000 V AC). Apparently, the body had been hit by a passing train and completely severed at the mid-abdominal level. Based on this apparently unequivocal finding, the police initially assumed a fatal railway accident or suicide. However, close examination of the deceased’s clothes revealed heat damage to at least four overlying layers of clothing in different locations. The rubber soles of his heavy leather shoes showed small holes in blackened areas underneath the toes. Furthermore, both socks revealed tears and fabric defects with burnt rims, again most prominent in the area of the toes. Skin burns, consistent with electric burns, and blistering were detected on the deceased’s hands and feet. A broken fishing rod was found in the proximity. On autopsy, multiple injuries caused by severe blunt force with subsequent skull fracture and brain laceration as well as multiple injuries to the spinal column and rib fractures were found and visceral organs displayed multiple lacerations. However, the lack of relevant hematomas argues that these injuries were inflicted postmortem. Histological examination confirmed the presence of electric burns from electrocution. Based on the results of the forensic-pathological examination and additional investigations carried out at the scene of death, we could demonstrate that this highly unusual death was caused by an electrocution after contact of the fishing rod with the high-voltage power line and not by overrunning by the train.

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Correspondence to Vanessa Preuss.

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Preuss, V., Vennemann, B. & Klintschar, M. Just another railway fatality. Int J Legal Med (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00414-020-02247-7

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Keywords

  • Electric burns
  • Electrocution
  • Railway fatalities
  • High-voltage
  • Forensic reconstruction