Coroner Scene Investigation

All deaths that occur in Douglas County that meets certain criteria require investigation by the Coroner's office. The Coroner Scene Investigator (CSI) is a trained medical investigator who represents the Douglas County Coroner. The CSI team is made up of personnel from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical. This program has been in existence since 1995.

The Coroner's Office is charged with investigating all deaths that occur as a result of: homicide, suicide, accident, or any death that is sudden and unexpected. Other examples of cases requiring investigation are deaths of juveniles, deaths that occur in custody, and any death that occurs within 24 hours of admission to a hospital.

The CSI will brief the Coroner's Office on the situation, at which time the Coroner's Office will determine if their presence at the scene is required. If so, the CSI gathers preliminary information and then assists the Coroner's representative with processing the scene after their arrival. If the Coroner is not required, the CSI will gather information relative to the medical history of the individual and the events that led up to the death. An examination of the body is performed for identification, signs of any disease process or injuries, signs of diagnostic or therapeutic interventions, and the recovery of any evidence. The scene is thoroughly processed and necessary documentation is completed. A determination is made for appropriate disposition of the body that may include release to a funeral home or transportation to the morgue pending autopsy.

By statute, the Coroner is charged with "determining, within a reasonable certainty, the cause, manner and mechanism of death". The cause of death is the disease or injury that starts the lethal chain of events, brief or prolonged, which ultimately ends in death. The cause of death may be an event that took place weeks, months or even years before the actual death occurs. The mechanism of death is the "physiological" change through which the cause of death exerts is lethal influence. The manner of death is classified as natural, accident, homicide, suicide, or undetermined depending on the findings at the scene and at autopsy. It is imperative to determine answers to these questions for both criminal and civil purposes.

The Douglas County Coroner is Dr. Erik Mitchell and his deputies are Dr. Donald Pojman and Dr. Altaf Hussein. These doctors are board certified forensic pathologist. These physicians serve as the designated Coroners in four Kansas counties, including Shawnee County, and contract their services to several other counties in the area on a case-by-case basis. A majority of these cases require an autopsy in order to answer pertinent medical questions. There are some cases that may only require an external examination by the Coroner.

The Shawnee County Morgue, located in Topeka, holds the largest forensic library in the area and is a state of the art medical examiner's facility. Douglas County has an agreement to have all autopsies performed at this facility. Douglas County pays for the cost of transportation and autopsy.

The CSI team is composed of seven paramedics the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical. There is one Chief Officer, who acts as the program coordinator, and six field medical investigators. All investigators have completed the medical-legal death investigation course through the University of St. Louis School of Medicine (MO). Regularly scheduled training and case reviews keep skills current. There are two investigators assigned to each of the three operations shifts, ensuring that there is always at least one CSI available 24 hours a day.

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