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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Coroner involved?

Pennsylvania law requires the Coroner to investigate deaths of persons dying from criminal violence, by accident, by suicide, suddenly when unattended by a physician for a reasonable period of time, or in any suspicious or unusual manner. Another reason the Coroner may be involved is that the identity of the deceased or next-of-kin is unknown. Because we live so close to New York State many people die in Susquehanna County that were be being treated by a New York State doctor. The Coroner must now complete a Pennsylvania death certificate because a New York State licensed doctor cannot sign a Pennsylvania death certificate.

Why wasn’t I notified sooner?

The corners office makes every effort to contact next-of-kin as quickly as possible. Speedy notification is not always possible due to a variety of factors, such as, the victim had no identification. To prevent a false notification, the Coroner’s office wants to be absolutely sure of the identity of the victim before notification. Please remember that although the victim may have been separated from his/her spouse without a legally recognized separation or divorce decree, the spouse is still the legal next-of-kin and is usually the one who will be notified. Sometimes this may present a difficulty to other family members who believe they should be the ones notified. Locating next-of kin, especially if out of state or country, make take some time. A uniformed Police Office generally makes death notifications for the Susquehanna County Coroner’s Office.

Is it necessary for me to come to the Coroner’s Office to identify the body?

No. In the majority of the cases, visual identification is not required. Should it become necessary for you to come in, bring other records or x-rays, you will be contacted. A photograph of the decedent will be viewed by the next-of-kin for positive ID when necessary.

How long does it take for a death ruling to be made?

In most cases, a signed death certificate accompanies the body when it is released by the Coroner. When there is insufficient information available to complete the death certificate, a pending” death certificate is issued. This death certificate enables the funeral services for burial to take place while additional chemical, microscopic, slide preparation and examination, and the investigation continues. At the culmination of these tests and investigation, the ruling is made based on all available information. A supplemental death certificate is then issued with the cause of death and the ruling which supersedes the “pending” death certificate.

How do I make arrangements for the body to be released from the Coroner's Office?

Routinely, the Coroner releases the body to a licensed funeral director. The next-of-kin of the deceased person should notify a funeral director who in turn, will arrange transportation for the deceased to the funeral home and obtain the necessary documents for burial or cremation.

Where may the clothing of the deceased be located?

Usually, the clothing of the deceased is released to the funeral director for disposal or use as the family requests. In cases of homicide, suicides, or vehicular deaths, the clothing may be held by the Coroner or the investigating law enforcement agency for use as evidence.

How is the funeral director selected?

Most often, the next-of-kin discusses the selection of the funeral director with the other family members, clergy or friends. The office of the Coroner is prohibited from recommending a funeral director. A listing of funeral directors is available in the telephone book as well as other sources.

Where can I obtain a Death Certificate?

Death certificates are filed with the Health Department by the Funeral Director. Should you require copies, they can be ordered through your funeral home. PA Department of Vital Records

Can the time of an unattended death be determined with certainty?

No. In spite of much research, an exact time of death cannot be determined. An estimate can be made based on a number of physical factors but the exact time of an unattended death cannot be determined.

Does the Coroner need permission from the next-of-kin for an autopsy?

The Coroner does not need permission for an autopsy. The office of the Coroner will attempt to comply with the wishes of the next-of-kin, provided this does not conflict with the duties of the Coroner as charged by Pennsylvania law.

When is an autopsy performed?

Not all persons brought to the Coroner’s office are autopsied. Certain cases are not autopsied where no “foul play” is suspected and evidence of a natural death is present. In other cases where the possibility of legal proceedings may arise as a result of a homicide, accident, suicide, etc., an autopsy may be performed. In these cases, both positive and negative information ordinarily is found which substantiates the ruling and the cause of death as signed by the Coroner.

What is an autopsy and is there a charge for it?

An autopsy is a systematic examination by a qualified physician of the body of a deceased person for the purpose of determining the cause of death. A record is made on the findings of the autopsy, including microscopic and toxicologic laboratory tests. These laboratory tests are conducted before the release of the body to the next-of-kin and for burial. There is no charge to the next-of-kin for a Coroner’s autopsy nor for any other test that may be conducted by the Coroner.

When will the Autopsy Report be completed?

The autopsy report usually takes about four to five weeks to be completed after the autopsy. If microscopic and chemical tests are performed, this time period can lengthen to six to eight weeks.

Why does the Coroner charge a fee for a Cremation release?

The release for cremation is required for all persons whose bodies are to be cremated, buried at sea or otherwise disposed of so as to be thereafter unavailable for examination (usually those who are donating the body to science). The great majority of these deaths are certified by the attending physicians and would not otherwise fall under the jurisdiction of the Coroner. This additional workload justifies a specific fee to be paid by the users of the specific service rather than the taxpayers in general. Approximately 195 cremations are authorized each year in this county.

Why does the Coroner refuse to release information about an investigation?

The Coroner, in conjunction with law enforcement, will often refuse to discuss details of the investigation. This is not to hide facts but to assist law enforcement. Any information that may jeopardize the outcome of an investigation will not be released. All information that can be released by law will be released once the investigation is concluded.

Will I be charged for Coroner services?

Normally no. However, there are exceptions. Should charges apply, you will be asked by your funeral home or the Coroner to pay these fees in advance.

Who will Clean Up the Death Scene?

After a death, there may be a need to either clean or dispose of contaminated clothing, furniture, carpeting, or other personal belongings. The Coroner’s Office does not provide these services. You should contact your homeowner’s insurance company for details.

What is an unnatural Death?

An unnatural death is any death that is not the direct result of a natural, medically recognized disease process. Any death where an outside intervening influence either directly or indirectly is contributory to the individuals demise or accelerates and exacerbates any underlying disease process to such a degree as to cause of death would fall into category of unnatural death.

What is a cause of death?

The cause of death is etiologically specific. Any injury or disease process, however brief or prolonged, which initiates a dependent and released sequenced of events ultimately responsible for the individuals demise is the cause of death. “But for” this or that particular underlying event, the individual would not have died.

What is a manner of death?

There are five manners of death: Natural, Homicide, Suicide, Accident, and Undetermined. The manner of death, simply put, is the circumstances in which the cause of death took place. Autopsy alone cannot determine the manner of death. The manner of death is based upon all available knowledge of a particular case, including the terminal events, scene investigation, police report, social, and medical background information.

What is a mechanism of death?

A mechanism of death is not etiologically specific. A mechanism of death is any pathophysiological derangement that is incompatible with life and should not be confused with a cause of death. Ventricular fibrillation or hypoxia are mechanisms of death; however, they can occur in advanced atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, low voltage electrocution or homicidal strangulation.

When in doubt?

When, even the slightest doubt exists regarding any death as being natural or unnatural, or whether the death should be reported to the Coroner’s office, please consult with this office at 570-278-6630. The Coroner can always review the circumstances and judge whether to accept jurisdiction. Not all reported cases fall into the above categories. After the investigation is completed, many will be returned to the jurisdiction or institution where the death certificate will be signed by the attending physician as a natural death.