The work done in medical examiners' offices has often been glamorized by popular television shows, but for Elk County native Jazmine Kunes, it is a way to help ensure that justice is done and bring closure to families in her job as a Quality Assurance Technician for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office in Pittsburgh.
"I love being in the criminal justice environment. I am able to watch people I work with help those who no longer have a voice in this life, and I too contribute to this in certain ways," Kunes said.
"It's very hard on a family to be faced with the death of a loved one, especially if that death is suspicious or violent in manner. At the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office, we try to help these families by trying to figure out what happened to their loved one and getting justice for each family or victim. That is the most rewarding part of my job, knowing that the facility I work at is helping people who can no longer help themselves every single day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
At the Allegheny County ME's office, Kunes assists the Quality Assurance Manager with a variety of tasks.
"My job is never boring; there is always something interesting to hear or see," Kunes said. "I am currently helping the facility to prepare for national accreditation, which is a very important aspect of any Medical Examiner's Office and forensic laboratories. This specific facility is one of only a few in the nation that has both the Medical Examiner's Office and forensic laboratories in one location. Generally, most MEs will have to send their forensic evidence to a different location to be tested, which takes much more time and funding."
In order to prepare for accreditation, Kunes reviews all procedure manuals and edits them for review from supervisors. She then goes through these documents and observes each laboratory to ensure that they are performing according to their documented procedures. She sometimes has to rewrite procedure manuals and performs other tasks, some of which are confidential.
"I am very lucky because this job allows me to work a lot of my hours from the comfort of my home on my laptop. Documents are sent to me and I am able to get them done when I am able to," Kunes said.
Kunes is a graduate of Ridgway Area High School. She attended Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh for a semester, studying Criminal Justice. She then transferred to the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford because she wanted to be closer to home. She graduated cum laude from Pitt Bradford in May 2011 with a B.A. in Criminal Justice.
She is the daughter of Kimberly and Stephen Kunes of Ridgway. Her mother is originally from Driftwood and her father is a native of Weedville. They have resided in Ridgway for many years and operate Ace Auto Rental in St. Marys. They also consider their dog, Moxi, as part of the family.
Kunes said the path to her job began when she applied for an internship at her current workplace the summer before she graduated from college. She was accepted and began her internship there in May 2010.
"Throughout the summer, I performed various interesting duties," Kunes said. "My first day, I was able to observe a full internal autopsy. Also, I was able to assist investigators while going on call to retrieve a deceased individual. Most of the summer, I assisted in the forensic laboratories, mainly the Latent Fingerprints section.
"I was able to see exactly how fingerprints are retrieved from evidence-- it's not as easy as "CSI" makes it look. Also, I observed several identifications being made on deceased individuals who were not able to be identified by other means."
During her internship, Kunes worked on a project with a fellow intern in the Latent Fingerprints section to help determine which different solutions of a chemical called Ninhydrin would work best with fingerprints over a period of time. She also had the opportunity to observe a vehicle being processed for evidence in a homicide case.
"This internship was not for the faint of heart. I did some mundane tasks as well, but that's what interns are for!" Kunes said. "I learned so much from my experience interning with the Medical Examiner's Office. It enabled me to find a more specific career path."
Kunes explained that prior to her internship, she was not sure what she wanted to do with her degree. Prior to her graduation from college, her intern supervisor at the ME's office asked if she would be interested in applying for a part-time, contracted position. It was a competitive process, with many former interns also applying. In February, she learned she got the job.
"I was extremely excited and started working two days after graduating college in May. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a job in general, let alone one in which I can apply my degree," Kunes said.
She acknowledged many people who have helped her achieve her goals and get her where she is today. One of those people was a criminal justice professor at Pitt-Bradford by the name of Dr. Tony Gaskew.
"He pushed me to do the best that I could throughout my college career, as well as keeping my interest in the classes I had with him," Kunes said.
She also acknowledged her grandmother, Susan Lapley, whom she said piqued her interest in the criminal justice environment at a very young age, and her parents for their support.
They have always been extremely supportive of whatever I wanted to do in life," Kunes said. "They have helped me through everything, including a lot of financial aspects of being a poor college student/graduate."
Although she is now a city resident, Kunes said she always likes to come back to Ridgway and Elk County.
I like both my small town and big city, both for different reasons," Kunes said. "I'm from Ridgway, so I always enjoy being in the area. A lot of young people tend to find it boring, but I think it's a lovely place. Everything seems to be a little more perfect around here than in the city.
"I see the reality of life in Pittsburgh, when the body count stacks up on a daily basis with suspicious or undetermined deaths. In Ridgway and the surrounding areas, you don't hear too much about terrible violence like you do in the city. Life is a little less hectic and a little more relaxing."