The pathologist in charge of autopsies for Erie County abruptly resigned on Tuesday. Dr. Dianne Vertes spent 10 years with the medical examiner's office.
Among her cases was the death of Amanda Wienckowski, a young woman found dead in a garbage tote in Buffalo. Dr. Vertes' determination on Wienckowski's death has remained controversial.
Wienckowski's family has been pressuring Erie County to treat her death as a homicide. Even some police investigators have reportedly disagreed with autopsy results presented by Dr. Vertes.
Peter Anderson, the spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, said, "We do not know why she resigned. That would be something to talk about with Dr. Vertes."
Her resignation did not come as a surprise to those who have challenged her autopsy findings in 2009 on the body of 20-year-old Wienckowski of Kenmore. Dr. Vertes ruled that her death was due to a drug overdose but her family and their attorney Steve Cohen believe the evidence shows she was murdered.
"We're glad that [Dr. Vertes resigned]. We expected it months ago," Cohen said.
Wienckowski's mother, Leslie Brill, added, "Well I thank God for the resignation. The truth needs to be looked at."
Cohen continued, "The date rape drug found in her blood. There were defensive wounds on her arms and legs. Dr. Vertes refused to pay any attention to those facts."
And Kathy Weppner, an advocate for the family, added, "There must be confidence restored in the medical examiner's office."
A second autopsy by a pathologist brought in by the family concluded Wienckowski had been strangled. Her family had hoped for a change in the death certificate, but Dr. Vertes never wavered from her findings.
"She dug into her original positions. 'I don't care if there were finger marks around her throat,'" Cohen said.
Dr. Vertes determined those bruises weren't there. News 4 Medical Expert Dr. Peter Ostrow, who reviewed the case, agrees with her findings.
"I believe that Dr. Vertes handled herself appropriately and rendered the conclusions that were supported by the evidence," Dr. Ostrow agreed.
He believes the second pathologist brought in by the family gave unsubstantiated conclusions based on speculation.
Dr. Tara Mahar is now Acting Chief Medical Examiner for Erie County. She moves from her position as Associate Chief.
News 4 was unable to reach Dr. Vertes for comment.
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