Walla Walla County Coroner's race - Jim Schmerer

What do you see as the duties required of the county coroner?

What do you see as the duties required of the county coroner?

The coroner oversees the investigation of deaths within his jurisdiction. This includes effective communication and cooperation with local fire and law enforcement agencies, health care professionals and funeral homes. The coroner orders autopsies to be performed by a pathologist when necessary. My funeral service career, mortuary science degree and extensive business experience have prepared me to excel in this capacity. A coroner can be faced with some gruesome cases and as a funeral director I've been exposed to virtually every kind of death that a coroner may be required to deal with. I love being able to serve in any capacity and want to help the families of the deceased through what may be the most difficult experience of their lives.

One of the requirements of your job will be to write a budget which will have to be approved by the county commissioners. How much experience have you had writing budgets?

Over the past 10 years, I've owned several different kinds of businesses and a realistic and well-thought out budget has been a key ingredient to success in each one. Some people look at a budget as something restrictive and limiting. Actually, I have found a good budget is essential and can be very freeing. Through a budget, I have set financial priorities and made sure that resources were focused on the most important parts of my business. At times, I have needed to modify my budgets to make sure that the business's needs were being met. By operating within a budget, I have recognized and created opportunities to become more efficient. This financial responsibility has allowed me to take existing businesses that were mediocre and make them exceptional.

Which deaths do you feel a coroner is required to investigate?

Generally, if a person dies while under the care of a physician there is little or no need for an investigation. I believe the most important part of Washington state law is: "The {coroner has} jurisdiction of bodies of all deceased persons who come to their deaths suddenly when in apparent good health without medical attendance within the 36 hours preceding death."

Each case is unique and requires the judgment of the coroner to determine if these conditions apply. Exceptions to this general rule are also outlined in the law. As long as the coroner has a thorough understanding of the law as written and stays in communication with other officials involved in the death, he should be able to determine without difficulty which deaths falls under his jurisdiction.

What are your thoughts on confiscating medications found in the home of a deceased person? Is this necessary? Why?

The confiscation of medications in the home does not need to and should not be a general blanket practice. However, every case is unique. There may be instances that medications a deceased person was taking contributed to their death. The coroner should be able to determine what medications the deceased was taking through observation of the home, interviews with family and health care professionals and, if necessary, an autopsy. If medication needs to be confiscated in the instance of a suspicious death, it should be done by law enforcement so that it is clearly documented with other evidence gathered for the case.

Under what circumstances do you feel an autopsy is justified?

If the cause of death is unclear through a regular investigation, an autopsy is justified. An autopsy is also necessary if it will serve as evidence in a criminal case or rule out the possibility of foul play. In other cases, I believe the mutilation of the body through an autopsy should be avoided and the sanctity of the body respected. My mortuary science degree and funeral service experience have equipped me to identify unnatural presentations in the body versus those that are a natural part of decomposition. My knowledge and experience will help avoid unnecessary autopsies and ensure accurate coroner investigations.


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