Carson City’s real CSI
September 13, 2012
Carson City’s forensics have come a long away from the Chevy Nova being driven around as the mobile crime lab.Dean Higman, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office senior forensics specialist, shepherded the Nova to greener pastures and has seen the mobile crime lab expand to its current, modern state.The mobile crime lab — now in a white sports utility vehicle — is not the only thing to have changed during Higman’s tenure as the real Carson City CSI, or crime scene investigator.The crime lab used to be in the basement and attended by four pumps. When one pump would break during a rain storm, the water level in the basement would rise.Higman related his stories of crime scene investigation to a Citizen’s Academy class Wednesday night held by the sheriff’s office. Nearly three dozen people attended.Higman said he got his start in life as a carpenter. He cut his leg and, as part of his replacement in the work force, was offered the chance to be the evidence custodian in 1988, he said.“It was perfect timing,” he said.By 1992, he was able to place a suspect at a murder scene from a single footprint, leading to a life sentence.Although the case was difficult to prove, Higman soldiered on.“If you can do it, do it. Go for it,” he said.Higman does not do it alone and sometimes a second pair of eyes, or fresh ones, bring a whole new perspective to a scene.In one case, Higman was looking for a second bullet. He paced around the crime scene for an hour, unable to find it. Around and around he paced, searching high and low.He walked away from the scene. He looked back.There was a bucket in the middle, which he had paced around.He looked into the bucket and sure enough, there was the bullet, stopped in a phone book.“I walked for an hour and didn’t see the bucket with the bullet in it,” he said.Higman has many duties: He collects physical evidence, pieces together the events and figures out what happened.“These are events,” he said. “We have to figure out these events.”To figure out the story of the events, Higman must understand the spatial relationship of each item. Bullets in the side of a car tell the story of where those bullets were fired from.If the car is moved, it makes it that much harder to figure out where the shots were fired from. Through the wonders of math and consulting with engineers, trajectories can still be found.And those trajectories, pointing to angles and spaces, tell stories.More than just bullets, Higman works with blood.How the blood got there, the patterns it left, allow Higman to determine what happened, then discover the story of the events. “If it’s in blood, it tells a story,” Higman said.