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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Teen's train death wasn't suicide and state was wrong, expert says

A teen athlete who was struck and killed by a train did not commit suicide, contrary to the state's conclusion, according to a detailed report filed in court by an independent medical examiner. 
The court filing comes days after an attorney for the family of Tiffany Valiante filed a civil complaint alleging the 18-year-old Mays Landing native was the victim of a kidnapping and murder.

"I am convinced after having examined all of the relevant reports in the case, including those of NJ Transit, that while there are several plausible explanations for Ms. Valiante's tragic death, suicide is not one of them," wrote Louise Houseman, who worked as a medical examiner for Atlantic County for more than 20 years before retiring. 
 (Photo courtesy of Paul R. D'Amato)
Valiante, who was set to attend college on a sports scholarship in the fall of 2015, was struck and killed by an unscheduled NJ Transit train more than four miles from her home on July 12, 2015. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Southern Regional Medical Examiner's office days later. 
"It is highly unlikely this very accomplished 18 year-old female athlete walked barefoot, alone in the woods, without her cell phone, over stones and brush, in the dark along 1.5 miles of isolated railroad tracks on a hot summer night for a total of nearly four miles in order to commit suicide," Houseman wrote in her report, filed today in Atlantic County Superior Court. 
The Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, which oversees the State Medical Examiner's Office, declined comment. 
The family of Valiante has been fighting the state's ruling that the teenager intentionally jumped in front of the train, arguing that the circumstances around her death don't add up. 
Houseman's 30-page report, filed as an amendment to the initial complaint filed in Atlantic County Superior Court Friday, is an exhaustive look at Valiante's death and subsequent investigation. 
In it, she points out what she feels are holes in the investigation, such as Valiante's shoes being found weeks after her death, well off the path investigators said she walked. 
"There is no reasonable explanation of how and why the sneakers Tiffany was wearing the night of her death were found -- weeks later -- more than a mile from the heavily wooded, dark, isolated location where she was struck by the train," Houseman said. "If she walked barefoot in those conditions, the autopsy of her feet would have showed lacerations, abrasions or indications of soil, grass, stone or gravel. No such evidence was detected." 
The investigation into Valiante's death remains closed. Her family's attorney, Paul D'Amato, said he believes the new complaint will give them the opportunity to piece together what happened the night she died by issuing subpoenas to those the family believes were involved in her death. 
"We have no doubt that Tiffany did not take her own life and that the medical examiner's office made a grave error in misclassifying her death as suicide," D'Amato said. "It is our hope that this litigation will not only result in the proper classification, but also brings to justice those responsible for her death."
Valiante's family has a separate lawsuit that seeks to her cause of death changed from suicide.

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