Generally speaking, a call for the coroner is initiated by emergency medical personnel, who have determined medically that the patient is deceased. The EMS personnel notify the Jessamine County dispatch center that a coroner is needed at the scene, and Dispatch in turn notifies the coroner of a death scene call. A death scene can be anywhere an individual may be found unresponsive, including the home, at work, at the hospital or in a vehicular or other type of accident.
The coroner’s role is to determine three vital facts: the manner (natural, accidental, homicide, suicide), cause and time of death according to evidence and information that may be gathered at the scene; as well as by interviews with law enforcement, EMS, family, friends or witnesses. This information is vital in determining as accurately as possible, those facts.
The manner and cause of death are extremely important, especially if other than natural. In the event that a crime has been committed, or even if there is just suspicion of a crime, preservation of a pristine, undisturbed scene is of the highest priority. A contaminated scene, where evidence may be inadvertently disturbed, removed or destroyed, can actually hamper or impair the investigation of the case.
Obviously, the judicial consequences of such a disturbed scene could be catastrophic regarding a subsequent criminal case. The need to arrive on scene as expeditiously as reasonably possible in this scenario is therefore not only justified, but should be expected as the norm for the best possible investigative outcome. In such a situation, where we do not know all the particulars about the scene and how the death occurred, we may, according to state law (HB 34), elect to use emergency lights and sirens if there is the least chance that we may encounter a crime scene.
In the event of a fatal vehicular accident, arriving on the scene unimpeded and timely may sometimes prove extremely difficult due to blocked traffic. It should be obvious that a thorough investigation must be undertaken for all loss of life accidents, and talking with law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, those involved in the accident and witnesses, is again of paramount importance. Kentucky law states that removal of the vehicles or any deceased human being is not permitted until a coroner arrives on scene and conducts a preliminary investigation. While EMS, fire and law enforcement are busy caring for the injured and working the scene; clearing and removing the vehicles as soon as possible in order to restore traffic flow must be considered as well. For these reasons, the coroner may, according to state law (HB 34), elect to use emergency lights and sirens in order to negotiate heavily congested or blocked traffic while traveling to the scene.
I would like to point out that in any situation in which the coroner or deputy coroner deems the use of such emergency equipment necessary or preferable, all traffic laws are conformed to, and every courtesy is extended to civilian traffic and pedestrians.