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« N-S buyer to be revealed by end of month | Main | Allen County Courthouse: another view »


Nancy Nall

This story continues to develop. Today in the Detroit Free Press we learn that the Cerak family member who "refused" to ID the body was, in fact, advised not to do so, by a deputy coroner:

"On Thursday, a day after authorities confirmed the mix-up through dental records, Mowery said a family member of Cerak traveled to a temporary morgue to identify the body after the accident on I-69 that killed four other Taylor University students and a staff member. But he said one of his deputy coroners advised the family member against it, and after conferring with Taylor students and possibly staff, the relative decided against viewing the body."

P.S. Mitch Harper does a pretty good job patting himself on the back while accusing Tracy Warner of "self-righteousness." But Tracy raises an excellent question. Instead of defending the status quo, Nathan, turn it around and argue for it in the affirmative. County corners should be elected...why?

Katherine Coble

Instead, a Taylor University official incorrectly identified it as Cerak.

I'd like to point out that from what bit I've come to know that this doesn't necessarily accurately portray what happened. It makes it sound as though a person from Taylor was called to the morgue to view the bodies. While that may also have happened, it is my understanding from some of the participants that night that the driver of the second van (which was delayed by a refueling stop) was actually required to view the bodies in the midst of the accident site carnage to help the emergency workers sort them out. I can get how the shock of a person coming upon the absolutely grisly scene of friends and coworkers' deaths would prevent them from making an accurate identification.

While I don't know for certain that other Taylor University personnell weren't later called for a more antiseptic identification, I do understand that a great deal of reliance was placed on that initial "field identification".

Nathan Gotsch

I appreciate both comments and will amend the original post to reflect the errors in the initial reporting of the Star (and other news outlets).

However, I fail to see how that is related to the fact that Mowery was an elected coroner rather than an appointed medical examiner.

His deputy advised the Cerak family not to identify the body. That deputy was appointed, not elected, right?

Katherine Coble

Okay, Nathan, I'll play along.

Personally, since in Indiana the Coroner is the only person who can arrest the sherrif, I'd much rather have them elected. It comes down to that one thing.

And in an historically largely-rural state, an ME per county is completely unfeasible.

Full Disclosure: I am related to an elected coroner.

Mark Ryan

As someone who has worked at the scene of dozens of fatal accidents through the years, this parsing of an obviously horrific mistake has got to stop, especially by a media who is into witnessing, but not really understanding what goes on at the scene and beyond, except as they pass through the physical scene and its timeline to report the story. Reporting it is one thing, but the rapid secondary analysis at the very least demands a closer look and research as to what the fallout of such a tragedy may be. If the reporters were so great at this and knew the extent of the injuries,m why did not one reporter ask if they were sure who the deceased and who the living were?
Folks, nobody should be untouched by this colossal tragedy. Media especially.
In the realm of emergency services at an accident scene such as that, the first objective is to save as many lives as you can. Rapid triage, stabilzation and transport is paramount; often with the sheer mechanics of such an accident, if the living victims can be recognized or match to an ID, they would be. But in this and thousands of other cases across the country, a victim may be so disfugured from their injuries, identification may not be possible if they are living and unconscious, and may take a great deal of time to be certain if they died at the scene, even with a family member or friend identifying the remains as best as they can. So mistakes can and will happen. My heart goes out to all the medics, fire and police who were working that scene; they truly did the best they could to the best of their abilities with what they had to work with. I do not envy them the visual memories they'll be carrying with them for the rest of their days.
Regarding the coroner: much has been said, analyzed and parsed about the mistake made by the Marion County coroner and almost everyone reporting and questioning this incident has come off as some kind of instant emergency service expert. Give everyone a break and stick to reporting the facts as they are, not as they should be. Mr. Mowery had the integrity and heart to admit to everyone that the blame should fall on him and no one else. Cut the guy some slack. He's going to be punishing himself for a long time without your help.
Regarding the current Indiana Coroner system: If the voters in a particular electorate are stupid enough to vote in an unqualified individual such as a diesel mechanic or a high school biology honors student, then they get what they deserve. People often forget that one of the nations' best coroners, Allen County's late Dr. Phillip O'Shaughnessy was a dentist--not exactly someone in the CSI-Grissom mold. Working with him several times showed that he was thoughful, caring and professional to the utmost, even if his chosen vocation was not clinical pathology or medical examination per se, but forensic dentistry. Ask any other cop, medic or firefighter who knew him, or has worked with our current coroner. The voters in Allen County have made good chopices and they have been rewarded with competent professionals who sure as hell aren't doing this for the money or whatever promise glory comes with it.
The real problem lies with a lack of auniform code for death pronouncement and investigation from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as well as apathetic and uneducated voters, not with the simple premise that a coroner can be elected. And, to rebut Mr. Warner: Wouldn't appointing a medical examiner or coroner open up the door to rampant cronyism and a lack of continuity as is seen in many other city, county, state and federal departments of government? If you think this doesn't exist, then you're living in a fantasy world or a communist state. ("Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" comes to mind if the highest level of this practice.)
The best thing for this particular situation is to step back, take a deep breath, and look at the total picture from the bottom up before there are any more knee-jerk semi-informed accusations and suppositions made. Then identify what's fouled up. Then fix it.

Brian Stouder

Well, my lovely wife and I disagreed about this. I can understand the initial mis-identification; the first-responders and and the emergency room people all did what they do best.

But I just took for granted that there would be some standard physical verification (dental, or known scars, or what have you) requirement in the process of producing a death certificate - and particularly when their are multiple deaths in a single place.

Whether a Coronor is elected or appointed is beside the point; I think proper, standardized certification of an individual's death is the issue

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