Investigators continue efforts to identify remains

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An unmarked grave for the woman killed in a 1986 tractor-trailer crash, seen at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Uniontown

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State police are asking for the public's help in identifying a woman who was killed in the May 2, 1986, crash. The woman was a passenger in a tractor-trailer traveling through Springhill Township in Fayette County.

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This sketch shows what authorities say looks like of a woman whose remains were found near Star Lake Pavilion.


This woman remained unknown for almost four decades after she died in a car accident in 1986.

In Washington and Fayette counties, authorities continue to search for the identities of women whose remains remain unidentified decades after their deaths.

Last month, state police in Uniontown issued a new appeal for information to identify a woman who was killed in a tractor-trailer crash in Springhill Township on May 2, 1986. The woman was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a man coming from Sparrow's Point. , Maryland, in Richmond, Ky.

In Washington County, Coroner Timothy Warco said his office still hopes to identify skeletal remains discovered May 12, 2004, in a swampy area near Star Lake Pavilion in Hanover Township.

“Before I go to see Jesus, I would like to see his remains arrive at his final resting place,” Warco said.

Because the Star Lake remains are skeletal, Warco said they were given to Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist at Mercyhurst University in Erie.

When there is an unidentified body, coroners' procedures vary from county to county.

Newly elected Fayette County Coroner Dr. Bob Baker said there is a limit on how long they will retain custody of the remains.

“We would do what we call county cremation,” Baker said.

Baker said the office would retain possession of the ashes in hopes that the person could one day be identified.

In contrast, Warco insisted that its policy was never to make an unidentified body public.

“I would never bury the body. I will never cremate an unidentified body,” Warco said. “I will maintain guard over them until they are identified.”

Warco said the bodies will be stored in a facility at the Washington Cemetery. If the body remained unidentified, Warco would take steps to preserve it.

“What we would probably do at this point is keep them in our storage facilities and have the body embalmed for preservation,” Warco said.

If a person has been identified but their body goes unclaimed for 15 days, Warco said they will then be cremated in accordance with Washington County code.

Greene County Coroner Gene Rush said his office does not have any active cases of unidentified remains. In such a case, he would keep the body for 30 days before it is cremated.

According to Rush, it is not practical for the county to store a body for an extended period of time.

“There are no facilities to do it. We don’t have that capacity,” Rush said.

Since the 1986 Fayette crash is a very old case, Baker said he did not have much knowledge about the incident and his office was not involved in the police investigation. 'State.

But when there are unidentified remains, Baker said one of the first steps in the investigation is to take a DNA sample.

If a person cannot be identified, coroners often turn to the public for help.

“If we don’t know, then I call the media, and the media has always been helpful to us,” Warco said.

Rush also said they would send a notice to local media for assistance.

All three coroners agreed that it is rare for remains to remain unidentified for too long and that cases tend to be resolved quickly.

Baker and Warco pointed out that at one point they had access to a police database with which to cross-reference information. They said the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association is currently pushing to restore coroners' access to the Pennsylvania Justice Network.

Organizations like the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) provide information on cases like those in Fayette and Washington counties. NamUs estimates that about 4,400 unidentified bodies are found each year in the United States, and about 1,000 of them remain unidentified after a year.

According to NamUs, authorities believe the remains in Washington County are those of a black woman who was approximately 5 feet 10 inches tall. She is believed to have died in 2003. NamUs cites the specific location where she was found as a swamp between Whipporwill Road and Route 22.

The woman who died in Uniontown in 1986 had no identification and the driver's family did not know her. She is believed to be between 30 and 45 years old when the accident occurred and is described as 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighing 170 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair.

His final resting place is an unmarked grave at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Uniontown. The tombstone is engraved only with the year of his death and the phrase “God loves him.”

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