Samantha Coward is a Forensic Toxicologist at ESR and leads the Blood Alcohol team.
Sam studied Applied Biochemistry at Brunel University, London and Biomedical Science at the University of Portsmouth. She gained a Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Toxicology at the University of Cardiff.
In her job, Sam deals mostly with the New Zealand Police but she also works with coroners and pathologists. Processing data, liaising with clients and writing reports to communicate her team’s findings are a major part of what she does. These findings go to clients and are used as evidence in court. An important part of her work is testing blood samples to aid in the prosecution of drivers who are found to be over the legal limit. “We know alcohol is a danger for people driving so our work helps to reduce the risk for people on the road.”
Sam’s team is also asked to estimate the blood alcohol concentration of drivers at the time of a crash from samples taken later. Studies like the one she worked on with the NZ Police, which determined the blood alcohol concentration of different people after the consumption of measured numbers of standard drinks, help them do this. “Studies like that are a good way to back up what we say in court,” she said.
Part of Sam’s job involves providing expert evidence in court. “You’re there as an independent expert in the field, usually for the prosecution,” she said. “This usually involves going through your statement, explaining your conclusions, and providing opinions on the case.”
This has lead to plenty of interesting experiences like a trip to Rarotonga. In one of her favourite cases,Sam and her team were asked to prove a driver’s claim that his unknown consumption of vodka jelly was enough to put him over the legal alcohol limit. It’s not often you get to make batches of alcoholic jelly at work.