The Rutherford Report—Compassion Drives Coroner Divison

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“Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”

—Mitch Albom
Tuesdays With Morrie
Compassion Drives Coroner Division

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Coroner Division does more than tell the tales of the dead; it provides peace of mind for the living, too.

“What drives these men and women is their compassion for the loved ones left behind,” said Capt. Kevin Lacy, who heads up the Coroner Division.

Fundamentally, the Coroner is charged with investigating and determining the cause and manner of death for people who die in San Bernardino County. Investigators remove bodies from traffic collisions, murders and fatal accidents, and they also seek to tell the stories behind those deaths through witness interviews, on-scene observations, and meticulous autopsies that document every scratch, bruise, or bullet wound.

However, most of the cases the Coroner investigates are unexplained deaths that are eventually determined to be from natural causes. Out of the 9,475 cases investigated last year, nearly 8,284 were determined to be natural deaths.

The Coroner also must notify decedents’ next of kin—a responsibility that requires a compassionate soul and, sometimes, a tenacious spirit.

While many notifications happen soon after a death because the decedent can be easily identified, more complicated cases, such as bones found in the desert or a body pulled from the aqueduct, can take days, weeks or even years.

That’s when tools such the U.S. Justice Department’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or some plain, old-fashioned detective work come into play. From serial numbers on pacemakers to dental records and DNA profiles, Coroner investigators do whatever it takes to identify the dead and, hopefully, find their surviving family.

“There’s a lot to be said for that peace of mind that we can provide to family members who have missing loved ones,” Lacy said. “(Investigators) know that somewhere out there someone is missing somebody.”

The Coroner was a separate from the Sheriff’s Department until January 2005 when the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors merged the two departments in an effort to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Today, the Coroner Division employs a team of professionals including board certified forensic pathologists, an anthropologist and odontologist, pathologists, Coroner investigators, autopsy assistants, Sheriff’s service specialists, clerical staff, and an indigent burial specialist. The Coroner has offices in San Bernardino, Victorville and Needles.

Click here to learn more about the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Coroner Division.
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