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Commission grills Macomb Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz over botched David Widlak autopsy

Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 1:22 PM     Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 2:57 PM
david-widlak.jpgDavid and Anne Widlak
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Macomb County Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz  appeared before the Board of Commissioners' Health and Environmental Services Committee this morning to address issues about equipment in the county morgue that led to the botched autopsy of banker David Widlak.

Spitz’s work came under fire after a second autopsy, performed by the Oakland County medical examiner, discovered a bullet wound to Widlak’s head that Spitz missed during his investigation.

The hearing began with a public comment session. The first speaker, Marie Sontag, strongly criticized Spitz’s investigation into the death of her brother, Robbie Simpson, as St. Clair County’s medical examiner.  Sontag claimed Spitz only conducted a partial autopsy and quickly concluded Simpson’s death was a suicide. The family disagrees with that conclusion.

Spitz’s St. Clair County colleagues defended him.  Undersheriff Tom Buckley said his office has “nothing but complete confidence” in the medical examiner.

In his opening statement, Spitz acknowledged he had make mistakes in the Widlak autopsy. He also said his comments about the county morgue's equipment were misinterpreted by news media. The Macomb facility is, in his opinion, fully-equipped. Spitz almost immediately seemed to contradict himself by adding that Oakland County’s facility was better able to detect Widlak's bullet wound.

Under questioning from several Commissioners, Spitz said he would do a better job moving forward. He noted that, in hindsight, he should have used more advanced dissection techniques and taken lateral x-rays during the Widlak autopsy.

The Commission appeared to take cold comfort in that admission. Commissioner Ed Bruley summed up Spitz’s testimony in one sentence:  “What I’ve heard from you is: I’ll do a better job.”

Others asked if Spitz’s workload as examiner in two counties plus outside consulting prevented him from giving the Widlak case due attention. Spitz repeatedly denied he was overworked, despite conducting roughly 700 exams every year in Macomb and St. Clair counties.

Commissioner Don Brown wasn’t convinced. He suggested the Commission should review their contract with the medical examiner, perhaps preventing him from doing outside consulting.

This is probably the first in a series of Commission hearings focusing on the medical examiner. Committee Chairwoman Dana Camphous-Peterson prevented Bruley from delving too deeply into the specifics of the Widlak autopsy because today’s hearing was focused on the county morgue’s equipment.

That ruling clearly irritated Bruley, who noted that Spitz expanded the discussion with comments about his own methods of operation. Bruley then recommended the Commission take up the broader issue of Spitz’s competence in the near future.

Related topics: David Widlak

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greattakestate November 10, 2010 at 3:42PM

These idiot medical examiners are the people that help railroad innocent defendants in our legal system with their forensic testimony given under oath...makes one feel warm all over knowing how well our criminal justice system really works

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angusc November 10, 2010 at 9:48PM

If you are too incompetent to notice a bullet wound in an autopsy, you should be fired, end of story.

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