A crime scene near Hartville, staged by Uniontown police, gives Lake High School students a unique educational opportunity.
Carolyn Lloyd watched from her apartment’s parking lot as what looked to be about 15 crime-scene investigators milled around the lot next door.
Yellow crime scene tape cordoned off the area behind the building in the 1600 block of Edison Street NW that contained a light blue Buick Century, its front end smashed into a tree.
A grotesque stench grew stronger near the vehicle, and blood was visible on the ground.
Inside the Buick lay what appeared to be a dead woman, the victim of a gruesome murder or a tragic accident.
Cue the theme music.
The scene was an artful creation by Uniontown Police Chief Harold Britt and his officers.
The victim, a mannequin from the local fire station, and the car, a donation from Marlboro Towing, were props in a crime reenactment. It was staged to give Lake High School students a unique educational opportunity.
And the stench coming from the trunk? That was a dead opossum collected from the roadside by Sgt. Mike Batchik on the chief’s orders.
Students from Teresa Miller’s Legal Studies class and Meredith Duncan’s Forensic Biology class, all seniors, were tasked with investigating and processing the evidence for the classes’ final project.
The assignment will carry out to the end of the school year when a mock trial will determine if the class solved the crime and presented their evidence effectively.
The crime scene was based on a real incident in another state.
On Monday, students used actual police training material to collect fingerprints, bag evidence, and cast footprints left in the area.
They found a motorcycle helmet and sunglasses in a nearby trash can. A copy of a retraining order had blown into a nearby treeline.
“We encourage them to let the evidence speak for itself,” said Miller, who has done this project for three years.
Added Duncan, “They can develop theories, but not let it taint their thinking. If you think this is what happened, you may start looking for evidence to support that.”
The students chose roles, said Miller. Some were police photographers, others tagged evidence and documented it.
Britt said the Lake class, which is available to Hoover and GlenOak students, teaches realistic crime-solving and is a good opportunity for students interested in a career in law enforcement.
“We always have a great time with it,” said Britt of the team effort staging the crime.
He said the opossum was added to give students an idea of how a real decomposing body smells.
“We threw it in the back of the car and let it ripen. It was definitely nowhere near the smell of a human body,” he said. “We took it out last Saturday. We wanted them to be able to (work) without getting sick.”
Page 2 of 2 - SOLVING THE CRIME
Uniontown police officers Sgt. Nate Weidman and Capt. Dave Brown were clearly enjoying the activity, as they joked with students and listened to their ideas.
“They have a lot of different theories, and that’s exciting. They are thinking outside the box,” Weidman said.
Teachers normally don’t offer hints or help, but Duncan eventually asked students what they should see behind the car, if it were just an accident. Skid marks was the correct answer, leading them to the right conclusion that they were not investigating a single-car accident.
Bullet holes found in the victim, named Myra Mains, once she was taken from the car, proved them correct.
“The car is not hers, and she has a restraining order against her husband,” said Kaytee Trithart, who added, “No one hit the windshield on the inside. It was broken from the outside.”
MAKING THE CASE
Back at school, the next few weeks will be devoted to evidence processing in the lab, learning interrogation techniques and solving the crime.
“Now, they take the role of detective,” said Miller. “They’ll start interviewing witnesses who knew the victim. They will ask teachers, who have very limited information.”
Once they make an arrest, the students will divide into prosecution and defense teams and put the suspect on trial. Health-technology students will serve as the jury pool and selected by their anonymous questionnaires.
“They’ve never arrested the wrong person,” said Miller of the last two years. “But the defendant has always been found not guilty.”
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