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Questions of life and death

Pam Holmes Boyd

One would expect that a student who plans on studying forensic science would be a “CSI” aficionado, but Battle Mountain High School senior Tucker Lewandowski says he’s never had enough spare time to catch the show.

Unlike millions of enthusiastic television viewers, Lewandowski didn’t develop his interest in forensic science as a result of the popular drama. His attention was piqued as a result of a class he took at BMHS during his junior year. Forensic science is one of the courses regularly offered at the school and from the time he enrolled, Lewandowski was intrigued by the impact that seemingly miniscule details play in solving crime.

“There is no perfect crime. I enjoy solving the problem because a scene tells a story,” he noted. “There was one case we studied where all that was left at a scene was three cigarette butts. They found out everything they needed from just that.”

As a student in BMHS’s forensic science program, Lewandowski said the first challenge was basic anatomy. “We had to learn bones and how the whole skeleton is set up,” he said. From there, students learned about blood typing and they worked with synthetic blood in the classroom.

The latest tool in the modern forensic science arsenal is DNA and Lewandowski became fascinated by the role of DNA in solving crimes. “You can figure out someone’s DNA from a single hair and you lose hundreds of hairs every day,” he said.

After grounding students in human anatomy, the class moved on to ballistics. “We found out that no gun is the same,” said Lewandowski. He noted that identical gun models could be produced in the same factory on the same day, but each gun will have its own barrel imperfections that will stand out as a personal firing signature.

But Lewandowski noted that guns are not the only inanimate objects with unique characteristics. Items ranging from typewriters to wire cutters can link users back to crimes. “Everything, not just everybody, has its own set of fingerprints,” he noted. “It’s nuts what can tie some to a scene. There is a case when someone was caught because of a single spot of green paint.”

Lewandowski’s enthusiasm for forensic science is obvious and therefore it is not surprising that he plans to turn his avocation into a career. He plans to attend Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs beginning next fall to pursue an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Eventually, he plans to transfer to a four-year college to further his forensic science training.

“My perfect job, five years from now, would be to be in the forensics field, in the field collecting materials and taking them back to test them,” Lewandowski said. He noted that forensic science is an expanding field and his dream job idea is not a pie-in-the-sky hope.

“In this field, there would be any days that would be the same. It would be new, all the time,” he said.

As he prepares for his future, Lewandowski said he does hope his time will free up enough to allow some “CSI” viewing.

“I do watch other stuff on TV and I analyze it. In this one show, this guy was shot in the head but he landed on his stomach. That couldn’t happen the way it was shown,” he said. “When I watch stuff anymore, I have to stop and think, `Is this something that is logically, physically possible?'”

If things go as Lewandowski plans, in a few years he may still be asking those questions. But when he does, the questions will come from a working professional, not just a TV viewer.


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