Mother of deceased child sues Lubbock Co. Medical Examiner’s Office

Lawsuit claims mishandling of child’s remains

Mother of deceased child sues Lubbock Co. Medical Examiner’s Office

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Elaina Rose Castilleja of Lubbock passed away on Saturday, September 15, 2018 at the age of 10. She was a 5th grader at Brown Elementary when she passed. Her adoptive mother Rebecca Ortiz filed a lawsuit against Evan Matshes, Sam Andrews and National Autopsy Assay Group (NAAG) alleging they caused the improper collection and retention of excessive body tissue from Elaina and mishandled her remains.

The lawsuit says on Sept. 19, 2018, Sam Andrews and NAAG ordered a list of eight samples to be taken from Elaina’s body. The lawsuit alleges Elaina’s brain, neck eyes, spinal cord, heart, and lungs were removed from her body and shipped to San Diego without forensic justification and without her family’s consent. The lawsuit says such conduct constitutes excessive tissue collection.

In 2010, one of her biological parents caused Elaina to have traumatic brain injury. Both parents, Anthony Castilleja and Valerie Villarreal, were prosecuted and sentenced in Kansas.

On Sept. 15, 2018, Elaina’s health rapidly declined and she was admitted to the hospital, according to the lawsuit. After pulmonary and infection complications, she suffered multiple respiratory arrests. She passed away that day in the hospital.

On Sept. 19, 2018, Sam Andrews cited a “particular administrative interest," and provided instructions to Dr. Stephen Pustilnik for the autopsy of Elaina’s remains.

The instructions say, "We understand this case to be a possible delayed abusive head trauma death. Based on the available history, we are unaware of any ‘acute’ injuries. In addition to a standard, complete pediatric forensic autopsy, we as that you:

  1. Preserve the dura matter and brain in 20% formalin, suspended by a string under the basilar artery.
  2. Remove the cervical spine (skull base to T1 or so) and preserve in 10% formalin.
  3. Remove and preserve any acute or remote skull fractures (or portion therof) that are obvious to you.
  4. Remove and preserve (in 20% formalin) the eyes and surrounding periocular soft tissues.
  5. Remove and preserve (in 20% formalin) the remaining portions of the thoracolumbar spinal cord.
  6. Remove, flush, hang and preserve the heart in 10% formalin
  7. Remove, ferfuse (through the bronchial tree) and preserve each lung
  8. Liberally retain tissues in your stock jar (do not prepare any histology cassettes at this time; this case will be “cut in” at our labs in San Diego)

If you find any acute injuries, you will likely need to do full body soft tissue dissections (chest and abdomen, back, extremities).

The lawsuit says Sam Andrews’ directions for the autopsy of Elaina were forensically unjustified and excessive, considering the history of her injury and death, the prior prosecution and conviction of Anthony Castilleja or Valerie Villarreal, and the intervening nine-year period between Elaina’s traumatic brain injury and her death.

The lawsuit also says “a reasonably prudent forensic pathologist would not have taken the same actions in the same or similar circumstances.”

However, in a statement provided by NAAG, a group representative said it was its responsibility to investigate the death as best it could, which sometimes means going against wishes of a family.

“As medical examiners our duty is to the victim of a crime to assure that evidence is available should the district attorney or a grand jury decide to pursue additional charges in a case. If the evidence is destroyed it could make it impossible to achieve justice for the victim,” David Margulies, a representative from NAAG told KCBD via email. “Our responsibility to the community and the criminal justice system is to ensure that the cause and manner of death are proven correct, even when that process contradicts the wishes of family members. We stand by our decisions in this case.”

Elaina’s adoptive mother is seeking a monetary damages for mental anguish and exemplary damages because she believes the defendants were grossly negligent.

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