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Nueces County Medical Examiner investigation began with death of officer's wife

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Posted at 9:45 PM, Feb 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 10:32:30-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As the investigation into the Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office continues, many people have questions as to how it began.

Last month, KRIS 6 News broke the story that Nueces County Deputy Chief M.E. Sandra Lyden was not authorized to practice medicine in the state of Texas.

According to court documents obtained by KRIS 6 News, authorities began an investigation after Lyden declared the death of a Corpus Christi police officer's wife a homicide.

"It should not have taken the fact that it was a policeman's wife to have gotten that kind of scrutiny," said local attorney Eric Perkins.

That scrutiny came from a Corpus Christi Police Department detective assigned to investigate a husband who had just lost his wife.

When the detective questioned Lyden, court documents state she could not give a proper explanation of her findings, which included a fractured neck.

The Nueces County District Attorney's Office sent the 27-year-old woman's body to a forensic pathologist in Georgetown, who ruled the woman died of natural causes.

On Jan. 14, the district attorney's office served a warrant and seized documents from the ME's office. By the end of the day, Lyden's employment with the county had been terminated after only working for the county for a little more than a month.

The autopsy that kicked off the investigation into Lyden was just one of several she performed.

On Jan. 31, KRIS 6 News obtained a list of the 30 autopsies she performed since she was hired on Dec. 6, 2021. At least two autopsies involve alleged homicides in other counties.

On Jan. 6, Bee County Sheriff's deputies and state troopers found Juanita Saldivar dead in her home in the Blueberry Hills subdivision. Detectives said she was murdered, and her son, Joe Gabriel Perez, was arrested for the crime.

Nearly 160 miles away, and a month earlier, the body of 47-year-old Yvonne Salas was found inside a trailer in Hidalgo county.

Police interviewed Salas' boyfriend, believed to be the last person to see her alive. Marks found on his body, bloodstained clothing, and other evidence led to his arrest, according to NBC affiliate KVEO Brownsville.

KRIS 6 News spoke with both the Hidalgo County District Attorney's Office and Edinburg Police Department, neither of whom were aware of the investigation into Lyden.

Perkins said problems could arise in trying to prosecute cases with an unlicensed medical examiner in which the cause of death isn't clear.

"The more questions that are raised about governmental institutions, the more difficult it is for prosecutors to get convictions," he said. "If you have a case where the cause of death is very obvious, then whether or not the physician isn't necessarily licensed and is an expert, and what they did, may not affect the outcome in that case."

With or without a case, some families are still waiting for answers, or questioning the credibility of the ME's office, he said.

"To find out, after all is said and done, after those months and months of waiting for the medical examiner's report, that you probably can't rely on the report that they gave you — closure isn't closure anymore," Perkins said.

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