Sterling HeightsAugust 15, 2012
Crews discover body parts in sewer
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
Crews entering the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor along 15 Mile as part of an ongoing sewer repair project Aug. 15 made a grisly discovery: human remains.
Lt. Luke Riley of the Sterling Heights Police Department said “around a dozen” body parts were found by workers from Inland Waters Pollution Control, a private company contracted for the project, around 8:30 a.m., approximately 50 feet below a manhole east of Maple Lane.
At press time, the remains’ origin and identity remained a mystery.
“(The Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office) will do their investigation and autopsy … and we’ll do the investigation into who it is and how they ended up here,” said Riley that morning. “Obviously identifying the individual will be a big step on finding out what happened. The information that the medical examiner will hopefully be able to supply as far as race, sex, age, if they possibly can, will be helpful for us, as far as knowing who we’re looking for.”
A staffer answering the phone at the Medical Examiner’s Office Aug. 15 said she could not release any information on the case, though she indicated it can take four to six weeks to get reports back following an actual autopsy. And Riley warned Aug. 16 that an autopsy in the traditional sense wouldn’t really be possible.
“From what we recovered, based on that, we’re probably not going to get cause of death,” he said, confirming that the victim was white, but indicating that it will take a DNA test to determine the sex. “There’s no torso, no arms, legs, nothing like that. These are just pieces of a human body. It’s bizarre.”
Police also released a photo of multiple pieces of skin bearing a disjointed tattoo, a detail that investigators hope will narrow down possibilities on the victim’s identity, said Riley.
As of Aug. 17, police had followed up on a few leads, with no success, he said.
Gates allow crews to shut off flow to sections of the interceptor for limited periods of time to accommodate repairs, Riley explained, and the horizontal grate where the remains were found is usually underwater.
“Each day, they shut (the gates) … early in the morning, the water drops down to expose the area that they’re working on — and the grate, where the body parts happened to be found — and they go down and do their work,” he said.
The manhole at street level is open while crews are working underground, but it’s barricaded at night by a large cylindrical concrete top that must be removed by a crane, said Riley.
Therefore, there’s no way anyone could have deposited the body parts directly into that particular manhole overnight; the remains would have had to come downstream from elsewhere between the time workers left Aug. 14 and when they shut off the flow the morning of Aug. 15, he said.
“They were here yesterday working in the same area, and obviously, nothing was there yesterday, so whatever happened happened between the time that they opened the gates west and north of here yesterday and today, when they drained it back down,” he said.
But when the remains materialized in Sterling Heights doesn’t speak to when — or where — they were put in the system initially.
Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco said the line runs up to 24 Mile and Dequindre, then into Oakland County, and is intersected by sewer laterals from Sterling Heights, Shelby Township, Rochester Hills, Addison Township and other communities.
“The body parts could have entered the system anywhere north of 15 Mile,” he said. “They could have entered the system in any time period. It could have been yesterday. It could have been 30 days ago.”
According to interim Fire Chief Chris Martin, two Sterling Heights firefighters were deployed into the sewer to retrieve the body parts due to their specialized training for such settings. The operation was “challenging,” he said, but the firefighters were able to complete the task safely and efficiently.
“What it basically boiled down to was that obviously, the police techs aren’t trained to go into confined spaces, but the Fire Department is,” said Martin. “The other aspect: The Fire Department isn’t trained to do police evidence gathering, either, but we kind of had to figure out how to do both at the same time.”
The firefighters took photos of the evidence and the scene and gathered the remains, which were turned over to the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office, he said.
Counterparts on the Macomb County Technical Rescue Team from Shelby Township and elsewhere in the county were called to the scene as backup and to bring additional equipment, he added.
The roadway was shut down from Maple Lane to just west of Schoenherr for several hours to accommodate the retrieval and investigation. The area was a swarm of activity, with fire engines, ambulances, incident response and hazardous materials vehicles, and police cruisers from Sterling Heights, Shelby Township and Macomb County.
Based on preliminary photographs of the remains, Riley said it did not appear the victim had been deceased for an extended period.
As far as he was aware, no one had contacted the police regarding missing persons in the vicinity since news of the body parts’ discovery broke, he added.
Martin said firefighters ventured about 1,000 feet west of the manhole to look for additional evidence, but found none. The repair crews checked at a manhole east of the site, near the ITC corridor, with the same result, he said.
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