The Coroner’s Office is a statutory office, established by the Constitution of the State of Colorado. Every County has a Coroner who is elected to serve 4-year terms. The Coroner is governed by Colorado Revised Statutes, which mandate the Coroner to establish the cause and manner of death of deaths that fall within their jurisdiction. The CAUSE OF DEATH is the injury, disease, or combination of the two that was responsible for initiating the train of physiological disturbances (brief or prolonged), which produced the fatality. The MANNER OF DEATH refers to the circumstances in which the cause of death arose (suicide, natural, accident, homicide or undetermined). It is often a misconception that the responsibility for determining these vital questions lies with the law enforcement agency; however, this is the responsibility of the Coroner.
IF THERE HAS BEEN A DEATH AND YOU ARE UNSURE WHETHER OR NOT THE CORONER SHOULD BE NOTIFIED, PLEASE DIAL 911 AND REPORT THIS INFORMATION TO AUTHORITIES IMMEDIATELY. PROPER INFORMATION CAN BE GATHERED AND A DETERMINATION WILL BE MADE.
The Types of Deaths that are reported to the Coroner:
The investigation of a death by the Coroner’s Office is an extremely important function as it is done by an independent agency that does not work for the law enforcement agency, the physician, the nursing home, the hospital, the prosecution or the defense, but works on the behalf of the deceased to obtain the truth about their death.
Associated with the responsibility of determining the cause and manner of death, the Coroner has numerous other responsibilities:
It is the Coroner’s responsibility to pronounce death and determine what time the death occurred. Statutorily only a physician or a Coroner may pronounce death. The determination of time of death can be crucial in a criminal case, and may be extremely important with issues related to insurance and beneficiaries.
Colorado Revised Statute 30-10-606 clearly states that bodies shall not be moved from its place of death without the permission of the coroner’s office. In rural counties the elected Coroner typically handles much of the scene investigation, and in urban areas, the Coroner typically has Coroner Investigators who handle the scene investigations.
Scene investigation not only includes evidence collection, scene interviews, and examination of the body and circumstances, and may be followed up with additional interviews of family, friends, physicians, procurement of the medical records and other material that might provide the information needed to make the cause and manner of death determinations. The coroner then will correlate the scene findings with clinical history, ante mortem medical records, criminal, psychological and family medical history.
Take custody of the body
It is the Coroner’s responsibility to see that the body is removed from the scene of death. This is done with extreme care when there is evidence to preserve. The Coroner must make arrangements to have the body transported to a mortuary for holding, or to an autopsy facility as deemed necessary.
Make positive indentification of the deceased
A positive identification is made on all deceased persons whose death is investigated by the Coroner’s Office. This can be an extremely time consuming and difficult procedure. Fingerprints, dental records, radiological records, and DNA may all be used for positive identification.
Identification and notification of the next of kin
It is the Coroner’s responsibility to determine who is the next of kin. When the determination is made, the person must be located and notification made. Death notifications are typically made in person and can be one of the most difficult and emotionally charged duties of the Coroner.
Once the next of kin have been notified, the Coroner will be in constant contact with the family to advise them of the results of the investigations and/or autopsy, to obtain other information as needed. The Coroner also makes referrals to specific groups such as the Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Program and suicide survivors groups as the situation dictates.
If the next of kin are outside the county (maybe in other states or countries), the Coroner connects with other Coroners or law enforcement officials so that in person notifications are still facilitated. The Coroner may spend many hours locating these people and many more hours helping them to facilitate the disposition of the body and/or understanding and dealing with the death.
Protect the estate of the deceased
The Coroner is responsible for releasing personal effects to the next of kin and making sure that property (houses, cars, etc.) are secured until family can be found.
Discovery of skeletal remains
Often skeletal remains, complete or partial, are found in all areas of Colorado. The Coroner is responsible for first determining if the bones are human or animal, and if they are human, are they ancient, or Native American, or do they have forensic value. If the remains are determined to be Native American the Coroner must follow certain statutory obligations regarding notification of appropriate State agencies.
At the conclusion of a death investigation, the Coroner issues a death certificate, which is the legal document that states the cause and manner of death. This extremely important document is often used to settle legal matters, both criminal and civil, and insurance benefits for survivors often hinge on the rulings.
The Coroner must keep records and reports of each death investigation. The autopsy report is public record but not the rest of the Coroner’s file. The Coroner does not release any records received from hospitals, doctors and law enforcement agencies.
The Coroner may use many Forensic specialists to satisfy the mandates of the job. Forensic Anthropologists are used with decomposed bodies; Forensic Odontologists are used to make positive ID’s through dental comparisons; Forensic Toxicologists are used to determine the toxicology of body fluids and internal organs; Forensic Engineers are used in the reconstruction of accidents and there are many more.
There are specific types of circumstances in which a forensic autopsy provides the best opportunity for competent investigation, including those needing identification of the deceased and cases involving bodies in water, charred or skeletonized bodies, intoxicants or poisonings, electrocutions, and fatal workplace injuries. Performing autopsies protects the public interest and provides the information necessary to
address legal, public health, and public safety issues in each case. For categories other than those listed below, the decision to perform an autopsy involves professional discretion by the Coroner. For the categories listed below, questions will arise that require information obtainable by forensic autopsy.
A forensic pathologist will perform a forensic autopsy when:
the death is known or suspected to have been caused by apparent criminal violence.
the death is unexpected and unexplained in an infant or child.
the death is associated with police action.
the death is apparently nonnatural and in custody of a local, state, or federal institution.
the death is due to acute workplace injury.
the death is caused by apparent electrocution.
the death is by apparent intoxication by alcohol, drugs, or poison.
the death is caused by unwitnessed or suspected drowning.
the body is unidentified and the autopsy may aid in identification.
the body is skeletonized.
the body is charred.
the Coroner deems a forensic autopsy is necessary to determine cause or manner of death or collect evidence.
How do I request a copy of an Autopsy Report?
Autopsy reports are a matter of public record and are held by the Coroners Office in the county where the death occurred or was investigated.
To request a copy of an autopsy report for a death that occurred in Alamosa County, please mail, e-mail or fax a written request to our offices. Please note that the final autopsy report may not be immediately available following the conclusion of an autopsy and can take an average of six to eight weeks to compile all the information and formally complete. Please call our offices if you have specific questions regarding autopsies and/or autopsy reports.