AT THE DEATH SCENE
What appears to be a natural death may be criminal; an apparent suicide may actually be an accidental death; and a natural death may reveal serious implications for survivors. Because of criminal, civil and public health implications, your coroner must treat every death carefully.
Upon first learning that a person in the county has died from violence, casualty, unusual circumstances, suspicious activity or while in apparently good health, the coroner will notify a local law enforcement agency. Together, they investigate the scene. Often, the coroner must restrict access to the death scene in order to properly carry out the investigation. Indiana’s county coroners do not need the family’s permission to conduct an investigation, but do hasten to complete their investigations so that the family may grieve in peace.
"DO NOT DISTURB"
Proper documentation of the death scene is crucial to the coroner’s determination. Knowingly failing to notify the coroner or a law enforcement agency in the case of a death that qualifies as a coroner’s investigation is a Class B infraction punishable by a fine up to $1,000 plus court costs. Moving a body under these conditions is a Class D felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to $10,000.
The situation is tense, uncomfortable and demanding. The coroner’s role is to issue a swift and accurate determination of the cause and manner of death. In his or her efforts to do this, a coroner must sometimes restrict access to the scene. Often, survivors direct their anger at investigative personnel when, in reality, the tension of the situation is at the root of their stress. Cooperation with the coroner at the death scene allows him or her to document evidence that may lead to benefits through governmental agencies or insurance coverage.
As the investigation proceeds, your coroner has powers usually reserved for officers of the court: issuing subpoenas; authorizing autopsies; or calling for toxicological examinations of the body. Your coroner’s investigation provides answers which help survivors cope with their loss.
Public Information that must be released upon request
Section 36-2-14-18 of the Indiana Code says that the coroner is required to make available for public inspection and copying the following information:
- Name, age, race and address of the deceased;
- Address where body was found;
- Name of agency to which death was reported;
- Name of person reporting death;
- Name of public official or government employee present at the death scene;
- Name of person certifying death;
- Information regarding an autopsy, if performed, limited to the date, the person who performed the autopsy, where it was performed, and a conclusion as to (a) the probable cause, (b) the probable manner, and (c) the probable mechanism.
- Location to which body was removed; and
- Those records required under IC 36-2-14-5 and IC 36-2-14-10.
- Death by natural causes;
- Inmate deaths or cases in which cause of death originated while deceased was incarcerated;
- Deaths caused by diseases that may be public health threats;
- Deaths of people whose bodies are to be cremated, buried at sea, transported out of state or otherwise unavailable for pathological study; and
- Deaths of transplant surgery donors that are the result of some type of trauma.
The vast majority of coroner investigations are natural deaths, including situations in which there is no attending physician to sign the death certificate, sudden or unexpected deaths, or cases involving alcohol or other drugs of abuse.