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Forensic Anthropologist Benjamin J. Figura, PhD, Named Director of West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center

Benjamin Figura, PhD, has a strong background in disaster victim identification and mass fatality response. He is the new director of the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center, which is operated through the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. (Photo by Thurman Hobson)

Benjamin J. Figura, PhD, a board-certified forensic anthropologist, has been named director of the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center (WTRFC), which is operated through the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).

A native of Flint, Michigan, Dr. Figura received his Bachelor of Science degree in anthropology from Michigan State University. He earned a Master of Arts degree in anthropology from California State University, Chico, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in anthropology from Binghamton University in New York. Dr. Figura, who is one of 80 active board-certified forensic anthropologists, brings 16 years of experience to his new position.

Prior to joining the WTRFC, Dr. Figura was employed at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner for 10 years as a forensic anthropologist and Deputy Director of Investigations, where he managed the identification project for the victims of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack. He is most experienced in disaster victim identification, mass fatality response, investigations of missing and unidentified persons, identification methods, and Bayesian statistical analysis. His research explores the utility of Bayesian probabilities to combine multiple lines of evidence into a single statistical statement toward identification, with the goal of enhancing identification efforts for highly complex mass fatality incidents. Dr. Figura has responded to numerous mass fatality incidents in New York City and beyond, including in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in Thailand after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

In his new position, Dr. Figura is responsible for the overall operational management of the WTRFC. He will also perform forensic anthropology casework in the laboratory and the field, and will work closely with Karen Chancellor, MD, chief medical examiner for Shelby County and a professor of pathology at UTHSC.

The West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center oversees medicolegal death investigation services for the 20 counties west of the Tennessee River that send their autopsies to the center. It is charged with applying uniform standards of investigation for all deaths, regardless of the county of origin, and maintaining investigative integrity, beginning with the scene.

The search for a director and forensic anthropologist at the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center was conducted by a search committee. The position will report directly to Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at UTHSC.