Cause of deaths could take months

By Mike Gellatly -

LUMBERTON — The wait for an official cause of death of the two women whose decomposing bodies were found in Lumberton on April 18 could be a lengthy one, measured by months.

Christina Bennett, 32, and Rhonda Jones, 36, both of Lumberton, were found dead in the Peachtree Street area, one in an abandoned house and the other in a trash can. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner used medical records to identify the women, which took about a week.

“Please keep in mind that every death investigation conducted by the OCME has its own unique set of facts and circumstances, and the length of time to complete a case can vary based on a number of factors,” said Kelly Haight, press assistant with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, an autopsy takes one or two days to complete, but if the results are not conclusive as to cause of death, toxicology tests may be required.

“As part of the autopsy, the pathologist may take biological samples such as blood, other body fluids, and tissues for further study in an effort to determine the cause and manner of death,” information provided by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reads. “Toxicology testing on some of these samples may be performed if the pathologist believes that the results may affect the determination of cause or manner. However, the results of such testing may take several months to finalize, causing the manner and cause of death to be certified as ‘pending.’”

Testing can take months partly because of the sheer volume of items needing to be analyzed.

“The laboratory is responsible for analytical testing, records maintenance and review of analytical testing and interpretation of results for more than 10,000 medical examiner cases annually,” according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. “The staff which consists of toxicologists, chemists, laboratory technicians and administrative technicians performs more than 36,000 analytical tests each year.”

The remains can be released to the families of the deceased for funeral services even with the final autopsy results “pending.”

The investigation into the deaths is ongoing, and anyone with information is asked to call Detectives Dereck Evans or Evan Whitley with the Lumberton Police Department at 910-671-3845.

By Mike Gellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989

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