Despite appeals from Tiffany Valiante’s family and legal counsel, the state’s medical examiner upheld his office’s ruling of suicide in the teen’s 2015 death.

State Medical Examiner Andrew Falzon agreed to reopen the case last year and review new evidence pertaining to the death of Valiante, of Hamilton Township, who was killed by an NJ Transit train in July 2015 in Galloway Township.

Investigators concluded she jumped in front of the train, but her family alleges foul play.

Falzon stated the manner of death on Valiante’s death certificate remains unchanged.

“My examination supports the investigation’s original conclusion that the manner of death be deemed a suicide,” Falzon wrote in a March 5 letter to Paul R. D’Amato, who is representing the Valiante family in the case.

D’Amato met with Valiante’s two sisters and parents Saturday and said they were in tears over the decision. They next plan to hand-deliver a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy’s office Monday to appeal for help.

“Anyone that has studied this horrible and tragic death walks away and says, ‘They can’t say it’s suicide,’” D’Amato said.

“The family is not suing for money. It’s about clearing their daughter’s name. It’s also about what the family has to deal with for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Valiante was last seen walking across the street from her Hamilton Township home to a cousin’s graduation party. She was found dead about four miles away after she was hit by the train in a heavily wooded section of Galloway Township.

D’Amato filed suit alleging she was kidnapped and killed, saying that would allow him to subpoena witnesses in an effort to get answers for the family.

Falzon wrote he came to his decision after reviewing the original Report of Investigation of the Medical Examiner, a toxicology report and case-related photographs.

He also considered information not available at the time of the death investigation, including a July 11, 2015, report by Louise Houseman, a retired senior medical investigator, witness interviews, a report from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, a transcript of Jamie Haye’s Aug. 17 deposition and Valiante’s relationship with her friends, family and significant others.

However, Houseman concluded in her report the manner of death should be changed to “undetermined,” stating that “there are enough unanswered questions, false statements, conflicting accounts regarding this fatality, and incomplete investigative information.”

She also noted Valiante’s shoes were found about a mile from where she was hit, but she had no scratches on her feet, despite the rough terrain.

Former Atlantic County forensic pathologist Dr. Donald Jason also reviewed reports, evidence, statements and photographs at the scene.

He concluded in a Feb. 6 letter the cause of Valiante’s death was undetermined, noting unnatural and natural causes of death had not been ruled out.

He also stated bias played a part in the original investigation.

“This apparently unnatural death was treated with the assumption that the death was not due to a crime,” Jason wrote. “This bias negatively affected the way in which the scene was processed by all members of the team, both responding police and medical examiner’s staff.”

D’Amato said there was no indication in last week’s letter that Falzon read and considered Jason’s report in his decision.

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Contact: 609-272-7022 Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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