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West Virginia stalled Donofrio identification, Ohio official says

Published: Thu, April 11, 2013 @ 12:10 a.m.



By Peter H. Milliken



The lapse in time between the discovery of James Donofrio’s body in the Ohio River and the entry of autopsy findings into a national missing-persons database is the reason it took a full year for his remains to be identified, according to the Ohio attorney general’s office. Donofrio of Boardman, 64, owner of the former Avalon Gardens restaurant and bar, was reported missing Sept. 26, 2011, by his wife, Rosanne.

His body was recovered after it was discovered by a fisherman March 25, 2012, on the Ohio side of the Ohio River, a quarter-mile south of Clarington, Ohio. The remains were identified Tuesday by the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office as those of Donofrio.

Because West Virginia has jurisdiction over the entire river, the body went to the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

West Virginia authorities did not enter the dental and physical characteristics information from the autopsy into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database until March 27, 2013, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which is part of the AG’s office, has a missing persons unit that works with local law enforcement to find missing people.

Asked to explain the one-year delay, Tierney said: “That would be a question for West Virginia.”

Marsha Dadisman, public information officer for the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office, did not respond to a request to comment on the delay. As of Tuesday, that office had not issued an official cause of death.

Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley declined to comment on the delay because he said he did not have complete information on it, but he did say that the West Virginia pathologist assigned to the case is on sick leave, and that city police cannot obtain the autopsy report until he returns to work.

Despite the long delay in this matter, Tierney said the Donofrio case illustrates that “we can identify remains and bring closure to families,” from “disparate jurisdictions,” using the NAMUS database, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

A family member entered Donofrio into NAMUS on Oct. 16, 2011, and, two days later, BCI assigned a case manager to the Donofrio matter to work with city police and the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office to make sure X-ray, dental and other relevant medical records were entered into the database, Tierney said.

However, the bulk of Donofrio’s medical and dental records were not sent by the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office to BCI for inclusion in NAMUS until April 10, 2012, Tierney said.

Dr. Joseph Ohr, forensic pathologist and deputy Mahoning County coroner, said his office sent the information for inclusion in the database after his office had determined that a man, whose badly decomposed body was found along the Mahoning River in Struthers, was not Donofrio.

“We were not involved with the Donofrio case, except to rule out Mr. Donofrio in the Struthers case,” Dr. Ohr explained. “We don’t get involved in a missing person case until we have a body.”

Members of the Donofrio family provided the name of Donofrio’s dentist and authorized release of his dental records when an FBI agent involved in the investigation requested them in April 2012, according to the family’s lawyer, Jim Tadla.

The family had provided authorities with DNA samples within days of the disappearance, Tadla said.

“The family turned everything over to authorities as requested,” Tadla said. “The family has always cooperated, and in a timely manner, he added.

“This family deserves an explanation as to why they’ve had to suffer this past year since his body’s been in West Virginia,” Tadla said. “We don’t want any families to ever have to go though this. If the system’s broken, then fix it.”

As for Donofrio’s body having been found so far down river from his point of disappearance in Youngstown, Dr. Ohr said: “It’s certainly possible that he washed 145 miles down river.”

While it is rare for bodies to be found so far down river from the point of their disappearance, Dr. Ohr said he has seen cases in Florida where bodies have traveled hundreds of miles down river.

“We may never know what happened to Jim. We hope we do, and it’s going to be difficult,” Tadla concluded.


1republicanRick(1716 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

Incompetent hillbillies put the Donofrio family through unnecessary pain. Since West Virginia cannot handle the job, jurisdiction of the river should be handed over to Ohio.

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2kensgirl(1057 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

I can't imagine the grief the Donofrio family is feeling. I know them and they are truly good people. This story is heartbreaking. No matter whose fault it is I hope this never has to happen to another family again.

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3DwightK(1535 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

Why does West Virginia feel the need to live up to its reputation every chance it gets?

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4TERRAPINST(320 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

zz3: Let me ask, how did you go from the subject of West Virginia delaying the ID of Donofrio to attacking the Youngstown Police Department, attacking Youngstown, to then suggesting that this was suicide based on a business failure? I mean talk about a stretch here. Why don't you just set up a website called I hate the YPD and the Mayor and Every Other Public Official and save space on this Board. Please relevance sir...relevance.

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5endthismess(463 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

zz3, you sound like a cranky, miserable, dowdy old mess of a person. Have some respect for yourself. The YPD had very little to do with this situation and they did their part. The local officials as well as the family all did what they could too. Perry Mason is off TV now, ya wanna be crime solver. Go get some happy pills AND THEN TAKE SOME.

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6walter_sobchak(2672 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

Maybe I watch too much NCIS but I have to believe it shouldn't take a year and two days to enter dental and physical characteristics into a national computer database. Criticizing the local law enforcement and coroner is unwarranted; they appear to have done their job within reasonable limits. But, to delay this for so long does nothing for the family of the victim. Every day of delay is one more day down the line of no answers.

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7TERRAPINST(320 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree Walt, but that's what zz3 does. No matter what the story or how little relevance exists, that poster finds a way to bash YPD, Chief Foley and any other Y-town official he can-he doesn't discriminate though...pretty much hates everybody.

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8TERRAPINST(320 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

Oh yeah zz3 well I'll get you at recess!!!!

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9T1030(2 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

I'm confused, I thought that this article was about Jim Donofrio not zz3.

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10Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

Buried in the bottom of a sand truck and give him a free ride to WVa. Sure hope the family looks in to it . The paper never will . .

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11T1030(2 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

i don't understand the "sand truck" references

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