Ex-coroner says child abuse inquiries more complete now

Date: 2007-06-22

By Jaclyn O'Malley

jomalley@rgj.com

Testimony Thursday in the trial of a mother accused of killing her 3-year-old son revealed how differently child death and suspected child abuse cases are investigated now compared with 1974, when the death of James "J.W." Bader was ruled accidental.

Vernon McCarty, who retired in April after 27 years as Washoe County coroner, testified the 1974 coroner, an insurance salesman without medical training who is now deceased, missed a classic case of child abuse. McCarty said his own first training about child abuse wasn't until 1974, just five years before he became coroner. Now, an entire body of diagnosis, investigation and training divisions exist.

Injuries such as J.W.'s are seen most when unrestrained children are involved in car crashes, he said. The second most common occurrence is child abuse.

"The cause of death is obvious in the autopsy," McCarty testified. "The explanation of it does not coincide with the findings. ... This injury is the classic cause of death in child abuse (victims)."

Sparks police officer Terry Brown went to the hospital after doctors reported J.W. — covered in bruises — had died. Brown said he was told to take Wyman's statement and take photos of the child's body and the family's home. He said he didn't investigate further or ask any questions.

He said his supervisors told him detectives would follow up on the case.

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