Judge OKs exhumation of body for autopsy Investigators probing China Grove man's death after May accident

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Shavonne Potts and Kathy Chaffin

Salisbury Post

A judge has given local investigators permission to exhume the body of a China Grove man killed in May while riding his motorized scooter.

Rowan District Attorney Bill Kenerly petitioned the courts to have the body of Michael Jason Brown, 27, of 1665 Lentz Road, disinterred and an autopsy performed.

Brown died May 12 when his scooter overturned on U.S. 52 between Granite Quarry and Rockwell.

Initially, the N.C. Highway Patrol concluded that Brown’s death was an accident. Relatives questioned the report, though, and in November, Rowan County Sheriff George Wilhelm said his office had opened an investigation into the death. He added that witnesses had come forward, but no charges had been filed.

The petition to exhume Brown’s body said Brown was struck by a vehicle going in the opposite direction.

Kenerly sent a letter to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill Dec. 18. Chief Medical Examiner John Butts’ response, a copy of which the Post obtained, said “it should be possible to conduct a meaningful examination and fully document the nature and extent of the injuries present,” if the body is exhumed.

No autopsy was performed on Brown’s body. The death was said to be due to “traumatic brain injury” due to “motor vehicle crash.”

Although the Medical Examiner’s Office says the accident may have been caused by a third party, the Sheriff’s Office has not confirmed the details of the wreck.

Superior Court Judge John L. Holshouser Jr. approved the petition to exhume the body on Monday. Brown’s body is buried at Brook Hill Memorial Gardens in Rockwell. According to the petition, the Sheriff’s Office will pay the cost of the disinterment, autopsy, transportation and disposition of the body.

In his report, Trooper E.B. Purdue said Brown was driving his scooter north on U.S. 52 toward Granite Quarry, traveling about 45 mph. Near the point where Sides Road intersects U.S. 52, the scooter crossed the double-yellow line and overturned on its side, according to the report. The scooter traveled 61 feet after turning over.

Betty Brown, Michael Brown’s grandmother, said a day after the accident that family members were puzzled about how it could have happened. She told a Post reporter in May she couldn’t believe her grandson simply lost control of his scooter in the middle of U.S. 52.

“I’d like to actually know the true facts of what happened to him,” Brown said on Thursday.

She said a detective had called her home the day before and told her husband that Michael’s body was being exhumed so that an autopsy could be performed.

Michael and his parents lived with Betty and Roy Brown until he was about 3 years old, and he returned by himself to live with his grandparents during part of his teenage years.

Betty Brown said the whole family is still taking her grandson’s death very hard.

His father, with whom Michael was living when he was killed, goes to the cemetery every day, she said. “He takes water and a rag and washes off his headstone.”

Two of Michael’s three children are also having difficulty understanding what happened. Matthew, who is 7, asks over and over again what is going on with the investigation, she said.

“We loved Michael very much,” Betty Brown said. “He was doing good. He had joined the church and got baptized, and he went down there constantly talking to the preacher.

“He knew the Bible better than I did.”

Michael was going to school and planning to get his contractor’s license, she said.

Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts@salisburypost.com and Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.