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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Police brush up on forensics

Spokane sheriff's detectives Rob Sherar, top, and Khris Thompson, bottom, gather evidence from fake blood spatter to re-create a possible murder scene Friday at the Spokane Police Academy. Law enforcement personnel from Eastern Washington and North Idaho attended the class. 
 (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

A bottle of Knob Creek bourbon sits empty next to scattered dollar bills, face-down playing cards and a strong hint that something awful has happened: blood spatter staining the kitchen table and wall.

The scene was one of five created to test 22 area police investigators Friday as they completed a bloodstain pattern analysis course at the Spokane Police Regional Training Center.

Daniel Christman, who taught the weeklong course, used cow blood to re-create crime scenes he has examined.

Attendees pinned strings to the stains, creating lines that with some trigonometry pinpointed the places where the victims were standing or sitting when wounded.

But bloodstain analysis doesn’t always tell the full story.

“Forensics deals with probability or possibility,” Christman said. “Sometimes you walk away with multiple possibilities.”

The forensic tool was developed in the mid-1800s but wasn’t often used in the United States until the 1970s, said Christman, a Bothell, Wash., police officer. It’s useful not only at murder and assault scenes, but also burglaries when culprits cut themselves breaking in and violent car crashes to determine who was driving.

After spending about an hour analyzing the bourbon bottle scene, the investigative group that included Coeur d’Alene police Detective Scott TenEyck decided the victim was sitting at the table and that the blood came from his face.

“They were playing cards, and someone got angry with the other,” TenEyck explained.

TenEyck has had bloodstain training before.

“This one is a little more intense, teaching us mathematics we haven’t had since high school,” TenEyck said. “The more you use this stuff, the better you get.”

Spokane police and Spokane County major crimes detectives are trained to analyze blood spatter and often do, said Julie Combs, forensics lead specialist who works for Spokane police and the county Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s just another tool to be used at each scene,” said Combs, who took the course as a refresher. “It doesn’t stand alone.”

TenEyck and his fellow teammates learned that firsthand.

They were correct that the “victim” was sitting, and the blood came from his face.

But it was no crime scene, because there was no crime.

The grisly discovery was created when a man sneezed while suffering from a bloody nose.

“There’s so much energy in a sneeze,” Christman said.