‘Twas the day after Christmas and we were called by an attorney whose client wanted to sue someone for emotional distress and for disturbing the peace. Her client vaguely described a noisy midnight vehicle collision at his neighbor’s residence. We asked our client what particular question she wanted answered. After a long conversation, we concluded we needed to take the team approach. We assigned an accident reconstructionist, a biomechanist, a general contractor, a chemist, a fire origin and cause expert, a locksmith, a mold expert, an arborist, a meteorologist, a slip and fall expert, a structural engineer, and a veterinarian. It was a complex case.

Our team met at the site and began their investigation. They knew this was no ordinary assignment. We know that each of us have our own preconceptions and biases, but as experienced professionals, none of the assigned experts allowed their personal opinions to influence them one way or the other to form an opinion without solid evidence.

The first of many surprising observations came from the meteorologist who observed snow on the roof, the sidewalks, and on the lawns. This was unusual because there was no precipitation in the past month, and the lowest temperature of the past few weeks never fell below 50 degrees F. Our slip and fall expert observed that although the site was covered with snow and ice (a combination guaranteed to produce accidents), there was no physical evidence in the snow banks or on the sidewalks surrounding the home to show that any one had fallen (aside from a snow angel added later by an unknown party).

The accident reconstructionist read through the neighborhood witness event accounts and descriptions of the vehicle involved and observed that the statements were contradictory (probably due to poor lighting and excessive alcohol consumption) and were generally not credible. In any event, the vehicle fled the scene. It did leave vehicle tracks in the snow on the roof of the residence, but they started and stopped short of the edge of the roof, and there was no continuation of them on the ground. No tire tread patterns in the snow were observed. No debris field, point of impact, nor point of rest were found in the snow, making an accident reconstruction impossible.

The tracks on the roof included heavy boot prints and several sets of animal tracks. The veterinarian identified the animal impressions as those belonging to Rangifer tarandus (commonly Caribou & Reindeer). Hair samples were retrieved near the hoof prints that confirmed her evaluation. Reindeer and caribou have unique hairs which trap air, providing them with excellent insulation. These hairs also help keep them buoyant in water. The biomechanist recorded the depth, angles, and directions of the impressions of the boot prints in the snow on the roof. He concluded that a single individual carrying a heavy load over his right shoulder had walked from the vehicle to the chimney and then returned empty-handed to the vehicle before departing. The arborist noted that although the surrounding mature trees were 20 to 40 feet taller than the house, none suffered any impact damages from the alleged vehicle impact. The bark on their trunks, their branches, and their root structures were entirely undisturbed.

The fire origin and cause expert carefully examined the accumulated soot patterns inside the chimney. He observed that something large had gone through, but the largely undisturbed soot deposits inside the chimney were only from wood smoke, indicating that whatever had gone through was not flammable. Based upon the length and depth of the snow tracks on the roof, the structural engineer calculated the weight that had been added to the roof by the vehicle (a number that far exceed the local building code maximum permissible load), but a careful inspection of the attic by the general contractor disclosed not a single crack in the roof sheathing, nor in the roof joists, attic rafters, nor beams.

The locksmith concurrently examined the alarm system, all of the window casings, and the exterior lock sets, and concluded that none of them had been bypassed nor defeated (it must have been an inside job). Upon entering the living room, our investigators found minute traces of dust and soot on the fireplace hearth and a nearly empty drinking glass containing a white liquid residue placed on the mantle. Laboratory analysis by our mold expert showed the liquid residue was whole milk, and despite its many hours at room temperature, was devoid of any dangerous fungus, bacterial growths, or molds. A saucer with a few unidentified brown particles on it sat on the mantle The chemist transported them back to the lab and used a Scanning Electron Microscope to analyze the particles. She then telephoned the lead expert that the particles were ginger snap cookie crumbs.

The last item of evidence noted included a neat stack of empty gift boxes, formerly covered in red and green wrapping paper, and brightly colored ribbons. The homeowner’s small children were quietly playing a game in a corner of the room, oblivious to the scientific investigation. We are happy to say that after we reported our findings to our client, she was able to successfully negotiate a settlement with all involved parties, all the terms of which remain undisclosed.

Featured Expert of the Month:

Since he is outside our network, and not under contract with GEI, we recommend him only for special situations. He holds multiple doctorates in sociology, economics, linguistics, meteorology, psychology, manufacturing, business, and ecological studies and lives somewhere north of Alaska. His resume includes many decades of experience in dealing with small children. His schedule is generally flexible during the year, with the exception of the entire month of December when he is unavailable due to an annual recurring commitment.


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year