About the Coroner's Office
Duties of the Coroner
Colorado statutes specifically list certain cases that are coroner's cases:
- All victims of homicide or suspected homicide or violent means; suicide or suspected suicide, persons dead on arrival at a hospital (DOA); victims of accidental death or suspected accidental death; unattended / unwitnessed deaths, cases of overt or suspected child, elder abuse; persons dying in aircraft crashes, vehicular crashes (auto, motorcycle, boat or adjunct vehicle).
- All deaths occurring while the decedent is in police custody, or during transport; cases of recovery of skeletal remains; postmortem decomposition; industrial or employment accidents; death by poison or suspicion of poison; cases where the victim dies suddenly when in apparent good health;
- All deaths associated with diagnostic or therapeutic procedures; patient who has sustained an injury (fracture, fall, concussion, etc.) prior to or during hospital admission and; Exhumations (disinterment) performed for the purpose of establishing the cause of death or clearing up a question relating to the cause of death.
Responsibilities include but are not limited to:
- Scene Investigation: Respond to and investigate the scene of the death. In some instances there is more than one scene. This can occur when someone is taken from an accident scene to Summit Medical Center. In cases such as these, bothscenes need to be documented through photographs, sketches, interviewing witnesses, family members, or neighbors as to what lead up to the event as well as law enforcement and EMS / Fire accounts.
- Assist family if at scene
- Determine approximate date and time of death
- Document method used to identify decedent
- Properly collect and process evidence pertinent to the scene and body
- Remove the decedent from the scene in a dignified manner
- Follow-Up Investigation:Notify next of kin/family once positive identification is made and provide assistance and information.
- Conduct follow-up interviews with physicians, family, neighbors, or witnesses to event in order to piece together social and medical history.
- Document findings and facts in an unbiased report. It is not the coroner’s job to prove guilt or fault or to take sides.
- Provide testimony at depositions or in court.
- Release of information to public via press releases.
- To assist or be present at autopsy to convey findings to Forensic Pathologist as well as to take photographs, and gather pertinent evidence.
- To assist and interact with District Attorney, local law enforcement,ambulance, fire departments, report to health department, other attorney’s, funeral homes, Consumer Product Safety, organ donation teams, clinics, physicians, DEA, OSHA, insurance companies, private investigators, attorney’s etc.
- Miscellaneous Duties: Attend continuing education seminars pertinent to the field of Death Investigation.
- Provide training to law enforcement, schools, health agencies or other community service agencies in the field of Death Investigation, on the roles and functions of the office, and drug, alcohol awareness.
- Administrative duties which include: the copying and sending of Autopsy and Coroner Summary to families, insurance companies, attorney’s or law enforcement, signing death certificates, meeting with family or other pertinent individuals, record keeping, generating annual reports, and updating of operating guidelines.
Cause of Death
The cause of death is considered the medical cause.
Manner of Death
Manner of death concerns the medical explanation of how the death occurs. In Colorado, five categories are recognized for manner of death:
- Accidental - Death which occurs by an unintentional event or chain of events. This can include falls, motor vehicle crashes, skier vs. tree, climbing incidents, etc.
- Homicide - Death which results from the actions of another whether inflicted by gross recklessness, behavior which is implicit (silent observer or assist in) or explicit (elements present and obvious). It is not the coroner’s job to make a case against the accused, just to illustrate cause and manner and by what means.
- Natural - Death caused by a disease process occurring naturally such as heart, liver, or renal disease.
- Suicide - Intentional act of ending ones own life by various means.
- Undetermined - Is assigned when manner of death is unclear or not defined. This can happen when no medical cause is found upon autopsy or when remains are found that can’t explain manner.
In many cases where an individual has pertinent medical history, the cause of death may be found through medical records and past medical history, interviewing, and scene findings.An autopsy is ordered when there may be more than one explanation for a death or in cases of sudden, unexplained deaths.In most cases, we follow the National Association of Medical Examiner Autopsy Guidelines.