Since You Asked

After the story about a rollover accident victim who was identified by fingerprints, I was curious about how police figured it out. I keep fingerprints of my children, now teens, in a kit from 10 years ago that was made at a public safety forum, but these prints are not online. And I was fingerprinted to be bonded to work at a band in Ashland back in college. However, not many people submit such information to authorities due to privacy issues. So, if a person doesn't have a criminal record, how are these fingerprints obtained to compare the victim's prints to? — Sophia, Medford

In the case of Ronald Humphreys, the man who died in a rollover on Interstate 5 June 15, he had a criminal history, so police had easy access to his fingerprints. However, there are other places investigators can turn if they know a bit about the person they are trying to identify.

Deputy medical examiner Tim Pike said first he tracks down as much history as he can on the person. Once he has a lead on the identity, he can check to see if that person might have left prints anywhere. A veteran, for example, likely has records at Veterans Affairs. Federal jobs, bank tellers and educators all likely have been fingerprinted in the course of their work. People with concealed handgun licenses have their fingerprints on file.

He can contact families to see if they have records or are willing to undergo DNA testing to help confirm a relative's identity.

When Bennett Tanner, a longtime homeless resident of Ashland, died in a fire at his campsite above Lithia Park in February, signs about his sock puppet shows remained, Pike said. Pike knew Tanner was on the Oregon Health Plan, so he called dentists who accept the plan until he found one who had treated Tanner and had his x-rays and records on file. It took until April to track down that definitive evidence to confirm who had died in the fire.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering them all.

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