About the DepartmentTo the living we owe respect. The the dead, we owe the truth.
The coroner is a medicolegal death investigator charged with the investigation of traumatic, suspicious, or unexpected deaths.
A medicolegal death investigator applies principles of both medicine and the law in the course of the investigation and subsequently determines a cause and manner of death.
The coroner may also determine culpability, and in some cases may hold an inquest (which may be held in front of a coroner's jury) and can recommend an individual be charged by the district attorney.
The coroner often employs several deputy investigators.
The coroner, and deputies, are professionals who responds to some of the most horrific death scenes imaginable. Those who enter this forensic profession must possess strength in body, character and ethics in order to perform this very important service to the public.
Their duties include:
- Entering crime and accident scenes dealing with death many times on a daily basis
- Encountering all aspects of diseases, body fluids, drugs and weapons that may have potential harmful effects on them, simply from their presence
- Entering homes ranging from dirty, pack-rat conditions, to executive mansions.
- Dealing with emotionally charged conditions involving the death of children, parents, wives and husbands, and always maintain a professional attitude regardless of the circumstances
- Collecting and handling property involving expensive jewelry, cash, and other valuables that they must protect and return to the decedent's next of kin
- Being capable of examining decomposed and mangled bodies as well as reading and interpreting important medical records to help determine the causes and manner of death
- Being capable of coordinating their investigative efforts with law enforcement agencies, medical staff, fire department and emergency services personnel, and at the same time, protect the interest of the deceased person, whom they represent in death
History and the appellate courts in Pennsylvania have determined the Coroner is a member of the law enforcement team, possessing criminal investigation powers.
Coroners present a specialized ingredient to the crime scene investigation. Through training and experience, combined with fortitude in character and mental well-being, the Coroner contributes to the investigative process in a unique manner. They must possess a highly motivated desire to help families of decedents at a time when the need for the most gentle yet professional demeanor, is demanded of them. They must interact with highly trained medical doctors, a multitude of law enforcement personnel, sometimes angry and confused family members and the bureaucracy of public service to achieve one of the most difficult and important aspects of the criminal justice system.
Note to Citizens
We at the Washington County Coroner's Office extend our deepest sympathy to you during this difficult time. We hope the information contained in this website will assist you by providing answers to commonly asked questions.