Criminal Justice Class visits Morgue
by Jeff Hanley
February 04, 2009
Mr. Hanley's Criminal Justice I class visited the Grundy County Coroner, John Callahan on Thursday January 29, 2009. The class listened to Coroner John Callahan discuss his career path and his duties and obligations to the citizens of Grundy County.
The Grundy County Coroner is an elected county official. Mr. Callahan was hired in 1994 as a Deputy Coroner. Mr. Callahan was elected to his current position in 1998.
Coroner Callahan also explained to the students that he participated in two mass casualty cases, first was the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. Then Coroner Callahan participated in two separate trips to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Here is a brief synopsis of the duties of the Grundy County Coroner.
Once it has been determined that death has occurred, police personnel seal off the scene and the Coroner's Office is called. The processing of the scene provides the factual information needed to determine what occurred. In many cases, evidence obtained at the scene may be critical to the outcome of the investigation. The time involved in processing the scene varies widely, from hours to even days. An investigation usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete. This could also require subpoenaed medical records, dental records, etc. An autopsy is performed when necessary and toxicology samples are taken and submitted to a forensic laboratory for analysis on many cases.
If the victim is deceased at the scene, he or she remains at the scene until such time when removal will not jeopardize the critical scene processing. This can be difficult for family members who want their loved one tended to as quickly as possible. Every effort is made to remove the victim from the scene as soon as possible. Each death scene and circumstances related to the death are unique and may require special considerations.
Investigation should also occur when a death is investigated and the physician does not agree to certify the death.
A temporary death certificate is filed with the local registrar at the Grundy County Clerk's Office until the permanent is ready to be filed. After the investigation is completed and if it is determined the death was of natural causes, the Coroner signs and files the permanent death certificate with the local registrar.
However, if during the investigation it is determined that the death was not of natural causes or there are unusual circumstances, an inquest will then be scheduled. Then the funeral director will be notified and the permanent death certificate will be filed after the completion of the inquest.
As part of any death investigation, the Coroner's Office must gather information. This includes asking questions which may be painful and upsetting to family members and friends. It may also include collecting a variety of evidentiary items. As painful and upsetting as these questions and procedures may be, please keep in mind they are necessary and required in a death investigation.