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Coroner, law enforcement detail roles in death investigations

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – Because many people might not know what his office does, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell welcomed the opportunity Tuesday to explain its role to the county board’s Committee of the Whole.

In a presentation about the coroner’s office late last year, County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen said he wanted to define the coroner’s role with law enforcement.

In addition to Russell, other county officials – including State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, Sheriff Pat Perez and representatives from the Aurora and Elgin police departments – detailed their roles in death investigations.

They noted the Suspicious Death and Homicide Protocol also outlines their roles and responsibilities. While law enforcement works to determine whether a crime occurred in a death, McMahon said, the coroner establishes the cause and manner of death.

Autopsies conducted through the coroner’s office can provide insight into what caused the death, Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Cullen said. For example, he said, it can show whether illegal or prescription drugs were involved; whether the death was a result of an overdose or heart attack; and, in car crashes, the angle of impact.

Seemingly obvious cases might not always be so, Cullen said.

In the case of someone suffering an attack to the head, he said, the cause of death might not be the beating but an underlying medical condition, such as a cyst on the brain.

Perez said the information gleaned from an autopsy is part of an ongoing investigation with the police agency, which is why law enforcement wouldn’t want the coroner to call a news conference on the findings.

Chief Deputy Coroner Loren Carrera said different situations call for different procedures, and in some situations the coroner’s office must obtain medical files. Certain elements – such as toxicology reports – can take a few weeks before the results are known, she said.

Cullen noted that in his 20-plus years of experience, he has never experienced a problem between the police and coroner. Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas said his staff also reported a positive relationship with the coroner.

Russell, who is in his second year as coroner, said he was happy to hear that.

“There is no issue between me and law enforcement,” he said.

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