Local Crime Scene Cleanup Company featured in Gainesville Times

Sunday July 15, 2007 – FIRM CLEANS UP AFTER DEATH: (As read in the Gainesville Times)

As mortuary affairs specialists handling the remains of war dead in Iraq two years ago, young Marine veterans Benjamin Lichtenwalner and Ryan Sawyer saw a lot of very bad things.

So when they returned stateside, the task of cleaning up a bloody murder scene or decontaminating a house where a body lay decomposing for weeks wasn’t any worse than the carnage of war they witnessed.

In January 2006, Lichtenwalner, 26, and Sawyer, 22, started Gainesville-based Biotrauma, Inc., one of only about four businesses in the state that specialize in the clean-up of homicides, suicides and unattended deaths. They say their focus is helping families get a home back to normal quickly and with as much sensitivity as possible, whether its by replacing contaminated carpet and drywall or using high-tech foggers and ozone generators to dispel the lingering smells of death.

They acknowledge it’s a dirty job, but one that their time in Iraq prepared them for.

“The stuff we saw over there was a million times worse than what we’ve seen back home,” Lichtenwalner said.

In cases of violent or unexpected death, family members are often left to deal with the gruesome remnants after the body has been carried out and the crime scene tape taken down.

“We found out that a lot of families or church members were doing the jobs themselves,” Lichtenwalner said. “It was apparent that we had these skills and needed to put them into use, and this was an obvious way of doing that.”

Professional death scene clean-up is a relatively new industry that has sprung up with increasing public awareness of biological hazards from certain blood-borne pathogens, the two men say.

“As people become progressively aware of the real risks, society demands that things be done right,” Lichtenwalner said.

“Property owners are not going to get someone off the street to fix their toilet — they’re going to get a plumber,” Sawyer said. “It’s important to get a professional to do these kinds of jobs.”

The certified and insured company is on call 24 hours and will respond to scenes throughout the southeast, though most of the considerable business they get comes from the metro Atlanta region.

Sawyer, Lichtenwalner and their handful of part-time employees arrive discreetly in an unmarked truck and trailer after authorities have released the scene, and usually enter homes wearing blue fluid-resistant coveralls, taped boots and gloves and face masks. The work can be technical, exacting, and at times stomach-straining.

They say their work today is in some ways as gratifying as their old jobs in Iraq, where they helped ensure the military motto of “No man left behind.”

“We try to focus on helping the families,” Sawyer said. “It’s extremely rewarding to us to know we can get families back into a safe environment. We feel like we’re part of the closure process.”
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