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State suspends medical examiner after crash turns to homicide investigation

SALISBURY — State officials suspended a medical examiner for Rowan County this week after funeral home workers spotted a fatal gunshot wound on the body of Edward Leland Geouge III.

Edward was found dead June 9 in a vehicle that ran off the road and rolled over in a field adjacent to Saw Road in the Enochville area. The N.C. Highway Patrol’s incident report states the vehicle ran off the northbound lane of Saw Road and struck several fence posts before overturning. The vehicle came to rest on its roof.

Edward’s widow, Victoria, told the Post he was set to be cremated until a worker at Wilkinson Funeral Home in Concord noticed a gunshot wound. The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said he was fatally shot in the head.

“If he would’ve been cremated and they didn’t catch it, the murderer would’ve walked away free,” Victoria said.

On Tuesday, deputies charged Rene Oscar Gomez, Jr., a 31-year-old man who lives on the road where Edward was found dead, with the murder. He was arrested and jailed on unrelated crimes before being served with the murder charges.

The same day as the murder arrest, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Rowan County officials Lakisha S. Hayes was immediately and indefinitely suspended, according to an email obtained by the Post through a public records request.

“Suspension as a medical examiner prohibits an individual from attending death scenes, beginning new death investigations, and signing cremation permits,” an administrative specialist wrote in the email to Rowan County officials.

The email doesn’t describe facts related to the suspension, but Victoria and another source connected to the investigation said a medical examiner missed the gunshot wound. A news release from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office says Edward’s body was transported to the medical examiner and funeral home on June 9.

“The next day, June 10, 2021, a closer examination of the body revealed that the victim suffered a fatal gunshot injury,” the Rowan Sheriff’s Office said in a news release announcing murder charges for Gomez.

The Rowan Sheriff’s Office on June 11 announced the crash became a homicide investigation.

A spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which contains the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said communications staff were working Friday on responding to a Salisbury Post request sent earlier in the week.

The Highway Patrol’s role isn’t to determine the official cause of death. It relies on the medical examiner’s office to make that determination, said 1st Sgt. Christopher Knox.

“Their conclusions would in many regards dictate the type of investigation that occurs (homicide, fatal collision, medical event, etc.) and what agency would be the primary investigating agency,” Knox said.

Victoria said she wants people to know her husband had a criminal past he was working on turning around. Most recently, he was arrested in February for stealing vehicles in Rowan and Mecklenburg counties and possessing drug paraphernalia. Edward was born in Mecklenburg County, lived in Kannapolis and had two children, Jeremiah and Titus, with his wife. He worked painting cars and as a mechanic.

“No one deserves their life to be taken from them,” Victoria said.

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