In this episode, I invite you to step into my world as a forensic death investigator, where we explore a haunting aspect of my work that often goes unnoticed - suicides involving pedestrians and vehicles. Join me as I guide you through the heart-wrenching stories of individuals who made the fateful decision to end their lives by stepping in front of cars and trains. Together, we will delve into the profound ripple effect these tragedies leave behind. Through my eyes, I will share the emotional journey of unraveling the complex web of emotions, trauma, and unanswered questions that surround these cases. We will go beyond the victim and examine the enduring trauma endured by the unsuspecting individuals who were behind the wheel during these life-altering moments.
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0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.
0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.
0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly true crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.
0:24 Do I have some stories for you?
0:26 Are you ready?
0:30 We're having a little cold front here in Texas this week.
0:33 It's been amazing.
0:35 It's been in the 90’s, I have to say though that I have worked a couple of heat related deaths and I did work one the other day and it was crazy y'all.
0:46 Her skin was so hot.
0:48 Like when I touched her arm, I had to let go because it was so hot.
0:54 Like her body surface temperature when I checked it was 123.
0:58 Now, she had been there probably for a couple of hours, and she was lying in the sun, but it was crazy.
1:06 Hopefully, we will notice across the country fewer heat related deaths now that it's starting to cool off a little bit.
1:14 But we've also had a little bit of a rise in what we call auto pedestrian accidents.
1:20 And I did have one of those last weeks as well.
1:23 This is an accident involving a pedestrian in a motor vehicle or even a train or a motorcycle.
1:32 These of course are more severe than car accidents because the pedestrian is completely exposed.
1:39 Typically, these are cases where we end up literally picking up the pieces and these occur frequently, especially at night.
1:51 But looking at the statistics back in 2017, there were 5977 pedestrians killed in the US.
2:02 And that's one every 88 minutes.
2:05 And a majority of those happen either because the drivers are focused on other cars or on their phones, but pedestrians can also cause accidents.
2:17 One thing we see that can cause these is driving while distracted, not yielding right away to pedestrians as irritating as it may be for us.
2:29 When we're in a hurry, pedestrians do always have the right of way driving while intoxicated, of course, is going to heavily affect somebody's ability to pay attention and even people walking while under the influence of drugs and alcohol not paying attention, weaving around in the road.
2:48 And of course, we always notice that pedestrians who get struck at night tend to be wearing black and like not really paying attention.
2:59 Of course, if you're a pedestrian carrying a flashlight and wearing reflective clothing at night will increase your chances of not getting hit.
3:08 But even when you're on a sidewalk and you know, I think about this sometimes like people not paying attention when they're driving.
3:15 If you're on a sidewalk, minding your own business, walking where you're supposed to walk.
3:21 If somebody's not paying attention, they can run their car up onto the sidewalk.
3:25 We're very trusting in that way, not necessarily paying attention, but we still have to kind of watch our surroundings.
3:35 Pedestrians should always cross the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection.
3:41 They should walk on a sidewalk or on the shoulder of the road that faces traffic that used to always confuse me.
3:49 I couldn't remember was I supposed to walk with traffic or against traffic?
3:52 We're supposed to walk against traffic with the auto pedestrian accidents.
4:00 Not only does that initial impact cause significant injuries, but when the person lands back onto the ground after they're struck, they're going to sustain even more injuries.
4:14 Probably the most common pedestrian accident injuries are brain injuries, spinal injuries, loss of limbs, broken bones, lacerations, of course death and maybe even paralysis.
4:31 Pedestrians again always have the right of way.
4:34 I've worked many, many auto pedestrian accidents as a death investigator.
4:41 Now we almost all.
4:43 Well, I'm going to say we always have to go find the shoes, the shoes always come off of the person that's struck, and we always send the shoes with the body to the medical examiner's office, the shoes come off because the collision is violent, and the legs aren't restrained.
5:04 The shoes come off due to the acceleration and movement that friction between the shoe and the road, of course, as the vehicle pushes your leg, it's going to result in the shoe coming off.
5:17 We usually end up looking for quite some time for the shoes.
5:21 Of course, they're not going to be right next to the body.
5:23 So we may find them yards away from where the body comes to rest in the summer months.
5:30 And during the times of the year that people are out walking more, we do see a rise in these with the increasing amount of homeless people in some areas of the US.
5:43 We're also going to continue to see a rise in auto pedestrian accidents.
5:50 A lot of people walk with headphones and so they're not really paying attention and they can't hear what's going on around them and that of course, can increase their risk.
6:00 But dash cams can sometimes help reveal some evidence.
6:06 An auto pedestrian accident, I worked the other day, the dash cam in the vehicle that struck him was not working.
6:15 And so we weren't able to see the actual impact.
6:20 And many times we rely on that because many are obviously accidents, but there are others that are obviously suicides.
6:31 In many cases, people will jump out in front of a vehicle.
6:37 If we have a dash cam, it's easier to tell if it appears to be purposeful or not.
6:44 The one that I worked at last week, they had mentioned that it appeared as if he had jumped out in front of the vehicle, but because the dash cam wasn't working, we really didn't have any evidence of that.
6:56 It does help our medical examiners to have that so that they can view it to see if it appears that someone has done it on purpose, and it seems like such a violent way to want to die.
7:10 But I feel like a lot of people maybe look at it as a for sure and they don't think they're going to survive because of the impact, but they still can.
7:22 There's that.
7:23 So it may not be the best way to do yourself in.
7:26 But the auto pedestrian also is going to include trains.
7:31 Now, trains have cameras and that can help show us if a person appears to want to be struck on purpose.
7:37 But I've seen many train pedestrian accidents, many of them or are suicides, but of course not all of them.
7:48 Again, somebody may be walking along the tracks with headphones on and just not be paying attention and not here.
7:55 And if you're not near a crossing, you're not going to hear the bells and whistles that go off.
8:03 I worked 11 years in Houston and there was a young man, he was laying over the tracks, he was cut in half.
8:13 I mean, it appeared as if he literally just laid on the tracks waiting for a train to strike him.
8:21 It cauterized him.
8:23 He was completely cauterized with very little blood.
8:26 I mean, I'm going to say maybe the size of my hand underneath his body.
8:31 So very, very little blood.
8:34 And he had on a backpack when we were on the scene.
8:38 Of course, the police looked through the backpack and there was a suicide note in it.
8:44 The driver of the train was almost right on top of him before he even saw him.
8:50 Of course, trains are carrying a lot of stuff and they're not going to be able to stop easily.
8:56 They're heavy.
8:58 If you've got 50 cars behind you, like, there's no way that a train can stop in time to keep from hitting somebody.
9:05 Many times the temperature of the tracks can vary based on a lot of factors.
9:11 Like once a train goes over the tracks, so the length of the train, the speed of the train, the temperature outside, but generally the track temperature can range from 100 to 140 degrees.
9:23 And so that's why this got so hot that it completely cauterized him.
9:28 That's why he didn't bleed a lot.
9:30 But suicide strikes by trains were found to occur most often during the spring.
9:37 People that are hit by a train that are accidental are most likely common during the summer.
9:44 Suicides also tend to happen later in the evening hours like between eight pm and midnight, not quite sure why.
9:52 And then non suicide strikes will happen most frequently between four pm and 8 p.m. I don't know if that's because people are getting off work and they're walking.
10:01 But you also have to remember.
10:03 And I thought of this the other day, the amount of trauma that these drivers who strike these people who are trying to kill themselves, the amount of trauma that they experience because they feel like I tried to miss them, I could have missed them.
10:21 Was I not paying attention.
10:23 I mean, I just walked up to the driver of the truck that struck the guy last week and I couldn't find any blood on the truck.
10:32 I asked him, I said, what part of this truck struck him?
10:36 And he said, well, I think it was the will.
10:38 Well, but then I felt bad for him because he said I tried to miss him and I was like, you know, I know like I'm not blaming you whatsoever.
10:45 But anyway, many times there's blood and tissue on the front of the vehicle or the train and that we know most of the time is where the person was hit.
10:59 But my last train, pedestrian accident, I of course, go around the front of the train and take pictures.
11:07 And I viewed the front of the train, and it was covered in blood and tissue that was not all from the person that was struck.
11:14 I never really realized, but I talked to the people that were working on the train and they said that they hit cows, horses, dogs, wild animals like all the time because things run out in front of the tracks.
11:28 They don't know, they hit deer, there was so much blood on the front of this train.
11:33 I couldn't possibly tell what was human and what was not.
11:37 It was crazy.
11:38 I know that they're probably traumatized from hitting all those animals accidentally, but then to hit a person, I mean, you can only imagine whether it was an accident or whether the person was trying to commit suicide, how traumatizing it must be for the crew and drivers of the vehicles.
12:00 And I guess I always thought that it was a little bit selfish for somebody to put that guilt on a stranger and jump out in front of a vehicle like that.
12:10 I think it's important and I do also kind of review the mental health status of the person that is driving the vehicle that strikes the person.
12:21 And so I normally, if they're still on the scene, we'll ask them if they know a counselor or somebody that they can talk to because even though they may not initially feel like they need to talk to anyone about it, it could impact them.
12:38 One way that we're going to know whether someone jumped out in front of a train or a vehicle on purpose or was struck on accident is to review their mental health status with their family.
12:52 That's why it's really important that we've talked to the family and try to get a little bit of history about the person.
13:00 And many times this can help determine whether it's an accident or suicide.
13:05 History is very, very important.
13:08 So some of the questions that we ask are, have they ever tried to hurt themselves?
13:15 Have they ever wished themselves dead or been preoccupied with death or talked about suicide?
13:24 Do they have a history of mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety?
13:31 Do they have issues with substance abuse?
13:33 Have they been ill or living with a chronic or terminal illness or even been in long term pain?
13:42 So is it somebody that's been struggling with chronic pain and has been maybe overtaking pain medications and not getting relief?
13:51 Someone that may be suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
13:55 I know we talked not too long ago about symptoms of a TBI, and they can be debilitating, and I think some people have issues dealing with those and get to the point where they just don't want to deal with them anymore.
14:07 Stressful life situations, bullying or relationship issues can push somebody over the edge as we all know any sudden stressful or traumatic situations, like losing a loved one or losing a pet, childhood trauma or abuse.
14:28 And of course, if they have passed suicide attempts or have a family member who has attempted or committed suicide, that can affect their mental health status and not everybody is going to have long term issues.
14:47 Some may be new; they may be new issues that they're dealing with, and they don't have the experience of dealing with them and they don't know what to do.
14:55 And so they're going to put themselves in a dangerous situation out of desperation.
15:00 Maybe they don't know what else to do.
15:03 The mental health status is important in these cases.
15:07 We do visit with family.
15:09 We ask, you know, how have they been acting, have they been acting unusual?
15:12 Have they been sleeping?
15:14 Have they had any traumatic or life changing events happen recently?
15:20 We do find that most of the time it's been an ongoing thing.
15:25 Some people may have mentioned suicide but never attempted it.
15:30 You know, there are a lot of things that can push people over the edge and losing a job or again, losing a family member, not having income, feeling worthless, just those feelings that you may have when you're not bringing in any money, all of that is important.
15:46 And so that's part of the picture that we try to create for our doctors.
15:52 Of course, they can see the body when we send it down for autopsy and they view our report, which has all of this history in it.
16:01 The family history that we get as far as mental health.
16:05 Are they on any medications?
16:06 Have they been talking about hurting themselves and those types of things in these cases though, we are literally picking up pieces.
16:14 We use a paper bag, and we walk up and down the highway.
16:19 Several of us, usually me and a couple of our transport crew will walk kind of up and down the roadway to make sure that we don't leave anything there.
16:31 One of the most devastating things for a family would be if they came back to the scene and found a piece of rain or something on the highway, heaven forbid.
16:40 And so not only do we pick all the pieces up and send them with the body, but we also do have the fire department come and clean the roadway off.
16:51 There is always a little bit of fear.
16:53 I think in us during these accidents scenes that people are going to not be paying attention and run through the scenes in their vehicle.
17:03 And I think that we've all heard of that where people hit fire trucks that are sitting there with the lights on blocking the roadway.
17:12 I know the police do a really good job of protecting us in those situations, but we still have to watch our surroundings when we're there because we're not 100% safe because we are sometimes on a major freeway and usually, they're shut down completely, but sometimes there's only a couple lanes shut down.
17:30 And so there are still some drivers on the roadway that again may not be paying attention.
17:37 There are a lot of rubberneckers too.
17:39 I mean, we are always super careful to try to block drivers’ vision of what’s going on, especially the body because, I mean, many times there are kids in the car and everyone's going to be looking and we don't want anybody to see that.
17:56 Although we're used to it as death investigators.
17:59 We have to remember that the general public doesn't want to see a mangled body on their way to work.
18:05 I think that some people are like us and do want to see.
18:12 But then once they do, they're probably like, oh, I wish I hadn't seen that.
18:16 We do try to block the vision of people that are driving by, but again, everyone's driving by slowly because they want to see something or think that they do.
18:25 And so we use police vehicles and sometimes even our own vehicles to just block the view.
18:32 We do.
18:32 It's important again to pick up pieces and send as much as we can down to the medical examiner's office.
18:40 And again, we do send the shoes.
18:43 These accidents can be traumatizing to not only the drivers of the vehicles, but also the investigators and the crew that transport.
18:57 We kind of have to just watch out for our own mental health.
19:01 I feel like many of us who have a background in nursing and law enforcement are used to seeing this kind of thing.
19:10 We are a little bit not, I don't want to say numb to it, but we're accustomed to it and it's not as surprising to us some of the things that we see I can remember years ago, I did have a gentleman.
19:24 He was homeless.
19:25 No one really knew his name.
19:27 He hung out at a local 7-Eleven, and he sold newspapers.
19:33 The Houston Chronicle would sell him papers at a discount and then he would mark the price up and sell them on the median in front of a 7-Eleven.
19:45 Some people at the 7-Eleven knew him as I think Bubba or something like he had a nickname, but no one knew his real name and he did not have an ID.
19:56 He was again homeless.
19:59 And so one day he was standing out in front of 7-Eleven and trying to sell newspapers and he was struck by a vehicle.
20:07 I can remember when we brought him in to the medical examiner's office, he came in as a John Doe.
20:14 We had no idea what his name was.
20:16 We talked to the people at 7-Eleven, and no one knew him by his legal name.
20:24 No one really knew anything about him as far as did he had family?
20:29 Had he ever been married?
20:30 Did he have Children?
20:31 We knew nothing.
20:32 So he came in as John Doe and I think he's never been identified, which is so sad, you know, he had to have family members somewhere and he was probably, I'm wanting to say in his mid to late fifties at the time, he looked a little older than he was because again, he was homeless and he was in the sun a lot.
20:56 He was like, really tan and he had really gray hair.
21:00 I just thought it was really sad that we didn't know who he was and were unable to notify his family.
21:08 We do get a lot of cases like that.
21:11 And then you always hear the stories of people changing a tire and law enforcement officers getting hit by vehicles that aren't paying attention because someone's on the side of the road again, they're driving, distracted or whatnot and they veer off onto the shoulder and end up striking a police officer who has someone pulled over or someone who has had a breakdown or a flat tire and had to pull over on the side of the road.
21:43 Drivers who strike pedestrians can face criminal and civil consequences.
21:49 It just depends on the circumstances of the crash, but they could go to jail or prison, they could end up being put on probation or even being fined and their driver's license being suspended.
22:03 This is only going to be when the police can prove that you're driving, distracted, or of course driving while intoxicated and not paying attention and striking somebody.
22:14 This is not going to be in an incident where someone jumped out in front of you in an attempt to kill themselves and you were paying attention on your way to work and strike a person, you know, there's going to be a big difference.
22:28 It's all going to depend on the circumstances around it.
22:33 Of course, we always have to talk about safety.
22:35 It's really important to know what to do if you're involved in a pedestrian car accident.
22:44 I hope to God, this never happens to anybody that's listening.
22:47 But again, safety first, get any injured people to a place of safety.
22:55 If the person's obviously deceased, do not touch them or move them.
22:59 If you have proper training, it's ok to attempt to administer medical treatment if you know what to do.
23:06 And then of course, call 911, get the law enforcement out there, give a good truthful statement about how the accident took place to anybody that's there.
23:15 Exchange information with everyone involved in the accident.
23:19 If the pedestrian is not incapacitated, exchange names, phone numbers, email addresses, insurance information, avoid talking extensively with the pedestrian if they are alive, admitting fault or making statements like I feel so guilty because that could affect things later on in the claim or the lawsuit.
23:40 Just be careful of what you say and then gather your own evidence.
23:45 Basically take pictures across walks, traffic signals, damage to the vehicle and anything else that might help tell the story about how the accident happened and then hold on to any documents relevant to the accident, which is the police report that's generated and any repair bills or anything like that.
24:05 But when a vehicle hits a pedestrian at higher speeds.
24:09 Of course, that's going to cause more serious injury and increase the possibility of a fatality.
24:16 But a driver can seriously injure a pedestrian while driving just 10 miles an hour.
24:22 Of course, you'd be negligent if you ran a red light or a stop sign and hit someone, if you failed to yield right of way at a crosswalk, if you failed to slow down or stop before hitting a pedestrian who's crossing a highway where they're allowed to drive too fast in a parking lot.
24:43 I know that I've seen people just speed through parking lots and I just can't believe that more people don't get hit in parking lots.
24:50 But again, just remember that the pedestrian can be at fault, you know, walking in an area where they're not supposed to or crossing the street illegally.
25:00 I always think too about the construction workers because I know that we always have, I feel like every year, at least one construction worker that's struck by a vehicle and it's usually not because they're in an area where they shouldn't be.
25:14 It's usually because the driver of the vehicle is distracted and not paying attention, but it's also important to slow down in those areas.
25:22 And I feel like a lot of people don't do that, just always consider that or what would you do?
25:29 I guess if it's a family member, if your dad or your brother or your uncle was out there working like slow down and pay attention in everywhere, but especially where there are people out, walking around working on the road.
25:46 Those guys do not have an easy job and they are out there in the heat trying to make the roadways safer for you.
25:54 And so it's very important to slow down and pay attention to what's going on.
26:00 I think with cell phones, we all tend to drive a little more distracted than before.
26:05 Thank God.
26:06 Now, the phone connects with our Bluetooth on our car, and we can listen that way instead of pushing buttons and stuff on our phones.
26:16 But I know that it is easy to get distracted.
26:20 I know I've gotten distracted many, many times and, you know, you don't always see people when they're crossing a crosswalk.
26:28 I guess it's just important mainly just to pay attention.
26:31 I would hate for anyone to have to go through that trauma and stress of having struck someone when there was something that you could do to prevent it.
26:41 That's just something that we see on a regular basis.
26:46 These take a little more time because again, we literally are picking up the pieces along the roadway.
26:53 They are normally having to block traffic.
26:56 It slows everybody down.
26:58 We see cases where people are decapitated after being struck, it does take time to get the scene cleaned up and get everything done that we need to do as far as photos and that's a very important part of it as well.
27:16 Just a little insight.
27:17 That's kind of how my week last week went.
27:20 I did deal with auto pedestrian and then also with the heat related death that I was talking about at the beginning of the podcast.
27:28 I am so happy that it is cooling off and we're starting to see some rain in Texas.
27:35 It's about time we needed it so badly as I'm sure a lot of parts of the country do.
27:40 I am hoping that everyone has a super safe week and try to keep things under control.
27:46 As death investigators don't have to work so hard. If you have any stories again that you would like us to discuss, you can email me at Julie @ pushinguplilies.com and we will soon be releasing some merchandise that you can purchase.
28:02 I know we got in some T shirts the other day.
28:04 We'll list those on our website as well.
28:06 Have a great week and we will talk to y'all next Wednesday.
28:11 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.
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28:25 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.