Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Coroners' laws have changed
It used to be that, after a person died, the Coroner determined the cause of death in a public hearing, or inquest. The Coroner is an elected official of the county; in our case here in McHenry County, the Coroner is Marlene Lantz.
From the McHenry County government website comes the Mission Statement:
"The McHenry County Coroner's Office exists to provide the people of McHenry County with a thorough investigation in the event of a death. This investigation may include, but is not limited to, autopsy, toxicology tests, metabolic studies, x-rays, entomological studies, and personal as well as psychiatric history. These procedures are done to insure that the facts surrounding the death are brought forward, and if an Inquest is held, the jury will have as many facts as possible to arrive at a manner of death."
The inquest was held in public at an announced date and time.
This morning I was told that about two-three years ago the laws changed. A coroner can hold a closed meeting in the office and discuss the circumstances of a death and assign a cause from one of five choices: 1. accident; 2. homicide; 3. suicide; 4. natural causes; 5. undetermined. At that meeting the participants can decide whether an inquest is to be held. Family members and police do not attend that meeting in the Coroner's office. After that meeting, the cause of death (from choices 1-5) can be announced by that office.
If the participants decide that an inquest is to be scheduled, then it is conducted in public.
Last week a woman died in Lake in the Hills. I could be mistaken, but I don't recall reading anything in the Northwest Herald or the Daily Herald about her death until the obituary was published. The obituary did not mention the cause of death.
According to the Lake in the Hills Police Department the case is open, and the investigation is pending. The Lake in the Hills PD Investigations Division is handling the investigation.
A community can support family survivors in many ways. Nothing needs to become sensationalized about a person's death but, when no news is released because of confidentiality or privacy, then a community cannot fully support a grieving family. And the longer that preliminary information is withheld, the more interest the public might take.
The Goal of the McHenry County Coroner's Office is equally important to the Mission:
"It is the goal of the McHenry County Coroner's Office to not only thoroughly investigate deaths that occur in McHenry County, but also to prevent as many deaths as possible. This is accomplished through education. Several presentations are given each year at local high school health classes and pre-prom programs to alert the students to the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. We also give programs to various service groups and the general public to inform them of the duties and workings of our office. The Coroner's Office also co-sponsors training programs for paramedics, police officers and other emergency workers to enhance current to enhance current job knowledge and skills.
A worthy component of the Goal is prevention of as many deaths as possible. When the public is informed of causes of death, it can be more alert to situations that might result in deaths.
(The above article was edited at 11:43AM)