Cadaver detection specialist dog joins Westmoreland County Coroner's Office

Paul Peirce
| Sunday, June 1, 2014, 11:03 p.m.

The newest member of Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha's staff is only 1 12 years old, stands just 2 feet from ground to shoulder and never removes her black mask.

Kai, a brown and black Belgian Malinois, was certified in cadaver recovery in Seymour, Ind., along with her handler, Deputy Coroner John Ackerman, in April, according to Bacha.

Bacha said Kai is specifically trained to assist the office at crime scenes and potential crime scenes with her keen sense for detecting blood, hair, body fluids and human remains.

“These breeds can detect trace elements that most humans cannot see or detect. Their senses are really amazing,” Ackerman said.

“We usually work alone. She is a workaholic. She's really machine-like.”

Although Ackerman has been a deputy coroner for 11 years, he has more than 20 years experience in training and handling cadaver detection dogs. He has been an associate instructor with Law Enforcement Training Specialist International Inc. for three years and has more than 200 hours of training with the organization.

He has worked with the coroner's office and the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department since the early 1990s.

Kai replaces the office's previous canine, Hanna, another Belgian Malinois, who died Dec. 22. Ackerman was Hanna's handler for nine years.

“It is hard to go from one dog to another. You have nine years experience with one dog and get to know her, then you have to get a new dog and start back at square one,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman said the office receives requests from all over the state for the assistance of the cadaver dog.

Hanna's last search was in September in Jefferson and Indiana counties, when a Brookville man was accused of robbing and murdering an acquaintance during a drug deal gone awry, then dismembering the body with a chain saw.

“Hanna was able to locate some of the remains,” Ackerman said.

The body parts were identified through fingerprints as those of 33-year-old Chet Allen Haddow of Punxsutawney. Michael Shugars, 33, is awaiting trial for murder in that case.

“These dogs can also detect old remains ... I tell people up to 100 years old. A few years ago, a landscaping crew in Murrysville uncovered a couple of pieces of a man's skull in an area where a man was suspected of committing suicide two years before that. I took Hanna up and we were able to find more remains, including his pelvic bone,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman said Hanna was able to assist investigators locating evidence in the decades-old mysterious death of Curtis Eutsey, 18, of Mt. Pleasant, who was killed by his girlfriend's brother between April 1990 and November 1992 in Mt. Pleasant Township. Hanna was able to locate bone fragments in a remote area where two men digging for scrap metal stumbled upon a few bones in 2010.

Robert Daniels, 45, of Unity pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in October 2012 and was sentenced to serve eight to 16 years in prison.

“Cadaver detection dogs help families in locating their loved ones and give them some sense of closure and peace,” Ackerman said.

This year, Kai will complete water cadaver recovery training, in which she will be able to detect the scent of a human body underwater from the shoreline or a moving boat, he noted.

Kai was acquired as a puppy in January 2013 from Logan Haus Kennels in Lewisburg, W.Va.

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