I’m excited about starting another term as coroner and continuing to build upon the foundation. There is no greater honor than to serve families in their most devastating times. Families require and deserve proper answers. They also deserve compassion, hope and empathy. This career requires you to think, investigate, cooperate, educate, be open minded and never take anything for granted. Our office strives to be the best that we can be and do the job right. A few jokingly tell me, your office just goes out and pronounces someone dead and picks up the body. I humbly smile and say, I suppose it could be that easy but that would not be doing the job right.
We are and have been bringing the coroner’s office to a standard of which it should be. Citizens and visitors are worthy of a full medico-legal death investigation that can only occur with the ownership and utilization of the proper tools and facility. Professionalism comes with an expense that is most meaningful to those that require the services of the coroner’s office. Perhaps, it is less meaningful to those that have been fortunate enough to not require these services. However, for anyone that has needed the coroner’s office I’m sure these standards are not only meaningful but beneficial to the family, friends, and as a whole, for the proper investigation, documentation, and discovery for both criminal and civil matters for years to come.
The investigation is one of the most crucial aspects of the job. Our practice is based around three key components: victimology, psychological autopsy, and anatomical autopsy when required. I have made a policy of only utilizing deputies that possess a medical background with at least prior or current paramedic certification and/or law enforcement with a criminal investigation background.
This is critical when police agencies are only involved in a certain percentage of our investigations. Therefore, the ability to interview, investigate, interpret physician records, understanding the pathologic basis for disease and anatomical abnormalities, along with, kinematics and injury patterns, are a very crucial part of the job.
We have an obligation as an investigative agency to both establish a true cause and a factual manner of death. Any other outlook is unjust and severely lacking in professionalism and expectation with the office. Autopsies alone are a crucial part of an investigation when deemed necessary. Not only for the purpose of establishing a cause of death but also for the purpose of discovering any hereditary or genetic underlying disease processes that can only be discovered through autopsy and information sharing. Again, this may not be beneficial for anyone who does not have children but for those that do, this is a tremendous benefit that can reduce future premature death.
Less important but still valuable is the cause of death listed on a death certificate. This feeds organizations such as the American Heart Association, along with, multiple other agencies that rely on accurate causes of death to be listed on a death certificate for the purpose of things such as heart attack statistics, drug related deaths, preventable deaths, and a host of other valuable items. Not only for the purpose of predicting life spans, dietary concerns, mental health concerns etc., but also for the reduction, through proper education in the schools and other institutions, for reducing premature death.
A morgue is another necessity for the proper investigation and body storage. In cases where autopsies are not performed it is crucial that a thorough examination and other testing can be performed such as toxicology studies and photographing. This is an important tool in not only establishing cause of death but also for life insurance purposes for any insurance beneficiaries.
Not to mention, deceased individuals should be respectfully kept in refrigeration verses room temperature where the body continues to decay.
Again, if you have never needed these services this may mean nothing to you. However, for someone who has just lost a loved one or friend, or if you are in the funeral business and expected to have a proper service where it is possible to view the body, this is a huge necessity.
I’m fully aware that death is not something people generally like to discuss; however, as sure as we live, we also die. The question becomes, when we die, do we deserve a proper investigation, respective handling, and proper discovery of cause and manner of death? I’m sure many would agree the answer is yes.
I get asked how long are you going to do this job, Tom? I reply, that’s up to the citizen voters, with a smile on my face. No, realistically, I have been with the office for 21 years, of which, I have been the actual Coroner for the past 12 years.
So, if the voters permit, I would like to run one more term after this which would give me 20 years as coroner. At that time, I will either support someone from within the office if elected or stay on board as a deputy for a year to assist the new outside coroner if he or she would like. My goal has always been to leave the office better than when I became involved.