Coroner's Office

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Coroner's Office

Coroner: Hayley Thompson

Q: What do I do if a person dies unexpectedly and was not under hospice care?

A: Call 911 to report an unexpected death. Local law enforcement will respond to the scene. The exceptions to this response are when the death occurs in a hospital, nursing home or when hospice is providing care to the patient. The local law enforcement officer will make the proper notifications after assessing the scene.

If the deceased person has been under the care of his/her personal physician, the physician will be contacted to inquire about medical conditions which may have caused or contributed to the death. Depending on the circumstances of the death, the personal physician often signs the death certificate. However, if the personal physician declines to certify the death because he/she cannot state that the medical history supports the death, then the Coroner will take further steps to establish the cause and manner of death. There are times when an autopsy is required to make that determination.

Q: When will the Coroner be called?

A: While there are guidelines governing coroner involvement in a death investigation, each case is handled individually. Generally, deaths that occur in a hospital, nursing home, or under hospice care, are not reported unless there are circumstances that raise questions about the cause and manner of death. Law enforcement or medical personnel will contact the Skagit County Coroner’s Office on all other deaths. The Coroner’s Office may be involved to varying degrees depending on the circumstances of the case. 

Q: How is the Coroner involved in a death investigation?

A: The Skagit County Coroner’s Office involvement might be extensive or minimal depending on the circumstances of the case. During an extensive death investigation, the Coroner will respond to the death scene, photograph, interview witnesses and family, gather evidence and samples associated with the decedent, and transport the decedent to the county morgue. Following the initial scene investigation, the Coroner will locate and notify family of the county’s involvement, request medical and pertinent records, request and conduct an autopsy, submit toxicology samples, complete a comprehensive death investigation report, and follow up with family and law enforcement. In addition, the case might require further analysis, such as clinical pathology analysis, forensic specialists such as anthropologists or odontologists, and radiology analysis for trauma or identification purposes.

Q:  How long does a death investigation take?

A:  A full death investigation can take several months (3-6 months), depending on the nature of the death.  This can be frustrating for the family and friends of the decedent because they want closure with their case.  While we work expeditiously to complete each case, we must rely on outside agencies for some work, like toxicology and contracted forensic pathologists, which requires extra time.

Q: Will there be an autopsy?

A: Washington state law gives the Coroner authority to decide if an autopsy is necessary to determine the most likely cause of death.  Not every death will require an autopsy, however, each case requiring coroner involvement will undergo a comprehensive investigation. It is important to realize that autopsies do not always provide a definitive cause of death.  Our office will consider religious reasons to forego an autopsy. The decedent will be released to the selected funeral home following the autopsy. There is no fee required of the family if an autopsy is performed.

Q: What if I want an autopsy?

A: If the Coroner’s Office declines to have an autopsy performed, then the family can have a private autopsy done at their expense (approximate cost can be $5,000 or more).

Q:  Who is the next of kin (NOK)?

A:  Next of kin is recognized in the state of Washington in the following order:  spouse or legal domestic partner, (common-law marriage is not recognized), adult children (over 18 years of age), parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family, and guardian of decedent’s minor child.

Q:  How certain does the Coroner’s Office have to be when making the determination of cause and manner of death?

A:  The Coroner reviews the evidence, and makes a determination of cause and manner of death based on the preponderance of that evidence. The Coroner must have more than 50 percent certainty based on the evidence to make a determination of the cause and manner of death.

Q:  How long does the Coroner keep a record of a death investigation, and how can I get a copy of my loved one’s report?

A:  Death investigation reports are kept indefinitely.  Immediate family can have access to the report but may be required to show proof of relationship. If you would like a copy of a death investigation report, please fill out and submit a Request forr Release of Reports form to the Coroner.

Q:  Who is authorized to view the Coroner’s reports?

A:  Immediate family, law enforcement having jurisdiction, prosecutor’s office having jurisdiction, attending medical personnel, and in certain cases (such as death from contagious disease or work-related death) public health officials and labor and industry representatives.  Insurance companies and attorneys do not have direct access to our reports and must be authorized by the family of the decedent to submit a request.

Autopsy reports are considered to be privileged medical information and subject to HIPPA laws. Final reports may take up to 9 months to be completed. It is important to know that autopsies do not always provide a definitive cause of death. Legal next-of-kin may obtain a copy of this report by submitting a written request to the Skagit County Coroner’s Office. Release of Reports form

Q:  Where do I get a certified death certificate for a loved one who has died?

A:  The Skagit County Coroner’s Office DOES NOT provide certified death certificates to families.  We are one step in the process of completing the final death certificate. Completed death certificates are filed with the Skagit County Vital Statistics office 360-416-1500. Although we keep a photocopy of the death certificate, certified copies cannot be ordered through this office. 

Q: Does the County have funds to assist with funeral arrangements?

A: The County does not have funds to assist families with funeral arrangements. If money is a factor, please speak frankly with the funeral directors about it and they might be able to suggest alternatives or provide payment options.

Our office does not and will not make recommendations on which funeral home to use. If the family is unable to select a funeral home, our office will work with local funeral homes on a rotation basis. The family is free to use the same facility or have their loved one transferred to a funeral home of their choice once the Coroner’s investigation is complete.