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Top forensic specialist to work on Grubbs case

Steven Symes is one of the leading forensic specialists in the nation for sharp-force trauma wounds
 Posted: 2:00 AM December 01, 2011

Ashland police are calling on one of the nation's leading forensic specialists of sharp-force trauma wounds to re-examine those inflicted on 23-year-old David Michael Grubbs when he was attacked Nov. 19.

Police Chief Terry Holderness said Steven Symes, a forensic anthropologist based in Erie, Penn., will arrive in Ashland on Tuesday.

Symes is an assistant professor at Mercyhurst College, where he is part of a master's program for forensic and biological anthropology. He also is part-time faculty member in the anthropology department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

One local resident has started an effort to light the Central Ashland Bike Path and build a memorial plaque in David Grubbs' honor there.

Brittany Hamer, 23, of Ashland, who said Grubbs was one of her close friends, started collecting signatures on a petition a few hours before the beginning of a community forum with Ashland police Tuesday. By the end of the night, she had more than 200 signatures. By Wednesday afternoon, she had nearly 500.

"I'm working around the clock trying to get people to sign it," she said, while sitting in the Ashland Shop'n Kart, where Grubbs was employed, preparing petitions to be placed near the registers there.

"I think if the community backs this, then it will happen."

Hamer said she will introduce her plan to the Ashland City Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting, Dec. 6, and hopes to raise money to pay for the lighting.

"My goal is 5,000 signatures," she said, planning to print off more petitions so that other volunteers can begin circulating them. "But I'll go to the council regardless of how many I have."

Hamer said she has received "very positive" feedback from the community while asking people to sign the petition.

"Most people tell me they don't understand why it hasn't been done before," she said.

Symes specializes in sharp-force trauma, with an expertise in saw and blade marks on bone, and also is renowned for his work with burned-bone trauma.

He is one of fewer than 90 forensic anthropologists nationwide who are certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.

"We're getting the best of the best," said Holderness.

Holderness said his department was led to Symes after making inquiries with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, a forensic specialist at the University of Oregon and the FBI.

"They all said this was the guy," he said.

Symes could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Grubbs was found murdered on the Central Ashland Bike Path near the Hunter Park tennis courts at about 5:35 p.m. Nov. 19. An autopsy showed that he was nearly decapitated from a weapon with a medium to large blade, police said.

Investigators said Grubbs didn't appear to make any defensive moves in the attack, and that his wallet and money were left in his pocket after he was killed.

So far, Holderness said, evidence points toward the attack being random, because police are not finding any reason for Grubbs to have been targeted.

As police broaden their scope of the investigation, however, they are considering the possibility that his attacker or attackers may have been acquainted with him through online video games, Holderness said.

"There have been instances in other communities where someone has retaliated against another person they interacted with online," Holderness said. "We understand that it's probably unlikely, but we're still looking into it just as a possibility."

At a community forum held by Ashland police Tuesday night, one woman asked Holderness whether police could track down people in the area who are known to be affiliated with swords and other martial-arts weapons, since they likely represent a small group of people.

But Holderness said because of the enthusiasm younger generations have with video games such as "Assassin's Creed" and other martial-arts animation games and shows, more people now own swords and other such weapons.

He said it is no longer rare for a person to own a sword, or to be interested in that culture.

"But we are considering all of those subcultures," he said, "because you never know."

There is a reward fund set up for anyone who can provide information that leads to an arrest in the Grubbs case.

The reward is currently $1,000, but likely will grow as community members make contributions to the pool.

Anyone wanting to contribute to the fund can mail a check to the Medford Police Department, 411 W. Eighth St., with attention to Ruth Cox. Checks can be made payable to "Crime Stoppers of Southern Oregon for Grubbs reward," Cox said.

Crime Stoppers of Southern Oregon established the reward fund on Monday.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1490 or email

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