Ask a Coroner Q&A – Part 4 2

Hey everyone! We’re back for another round of questions from you all, answered by our favorite Coroner, Jacquie.


If cadaveric spasm occurs in a body, will the affected muscles/muscle groups be the first to relax when the body enters secondary relaxation phase?

I’m not sure to be honest.  This sounds logical though.


I read that some of the London Grenfell Tower fire victims’ cause of death was “inhalation of fire fumes” and other victims’ cause of death was “smoke inhalation.” What is the difference?

The amount of charring (thermal injury).  Breathing in fire with fumes causes much more damage than breathing in just smoke.


My best friend has recently received the autopsy report for her nephew that passed back in March. She has the entire log, but she’s having a problem identifying one of the markings the coroner wrote on the diagram of his body. His back, arms etc. all have markings that have “contusion, lacerations etc” beside them. But the medical examiner marked IOC beside a cut on his leg near the ankle and we are unsure as to what it means. On the phone before we got the paper work, the medical examiner told us that he had a cut on his ankle that needed medical attention prior to death. But we want to know what “IOC” means. Thanks.

Intraosseous Catheter is what that would mean to me.  It’s essentially an IV in the bone on the shin.


Sorry if this is personal, but do Coroner’s get paid a lot?

Not too personal at all.  Each county is different and each jurisdiction is different. I know of some coroners in very small, rural areas who make about $10K each year, and I know some other coroners in larger, more urban areas who make over $100K per year.  It varies so much that there is no good answer here.  I currently make about $60K and am hoping for an increase with the next election cycle.  Our salaries are set for 4 years before we ever take office.


I read a magazine ad that makes it sound like we need to buy a necessary product, because the vast majority of people die with their intestines full of sludge (which prevented proper digestion and caused every ailment known to man). Is it true? Is intestinal or colon sludge common or “normal”, and is it a problem?

Save your money.


Why won’t the Coroner’s office call me back?

Obviously I can’t answer that.  I’m sorry they won’t.  If there’s something I can do to help facilitate answers for you – please let me know.


My father died from end stage emphysema. When he died, he turned solid white and he looked so young. He was 75. Is this common for a person to turn white like that? I mean, when he had a crisis, he turned blue and almost purple. I thought that might be the case when he died, but it was not. Both of my parents were in the same hospital room when he died, and then she died a day later. There is so much more I could write and say about this, but I just don’t have the energy. However, I haven’t been able to find anything about a person turning solid white upon death, and was hoping maybe I could find an answer here. 

After a long death process, this makes sense.  The person is lying on their back…blood is flowing…albeit at a slower and slower and slower rate…until death happens and all-at-once, the blood simply settles.  It is no longer flowing.  He appeared white rapidly on the front of his body – but, I am confident his back would have been much more pink in color due to the quick settling of the blood from a long death process.  I’m sorry your parents both died so close to each other.  It sounds like they couldn’t live without each other.


Question my son recently died and I recieved the toxicology report. He had an ethanol level of 0.23g % and Benzoylecgonine level of 510ng/ml. Cocaine was not detected. Cocaethylene was less than 25ng/ml. I have a hard time believing that my son was able to hang himself. He died from hanging but it was an unattended death and his girlfriend said she found him and cut him down. No autopsy was performed and I want to make sure that there isn’t foul play due to the fact that his girlfriend wasn’t home until 4am and my son died at 4:50am within the hour of her coming home. Can it be proven that he did cocaine that night? With that level of Benzoylecgonine?

Benzoylecgonine is what the body turns cocaine into.  It shows chronic use – not current use.  Cocaethylene is what the body metabolizes from cocaine and alcohol together.  Again – it doesn’t show acute use unless the cocaine is actually in the blood – which it appears it wasn’t.  I don’t believe he had recent cocaine use (meaning within hours of death).  Also, the time of death is most likely after paramedics/police arrive on scene…and not the actual time of his death which would have been minutes after actually hanging himself.  I’m so sorry you lost your son to suicide. I do not believe the girlfriend could have staged his death to appear to be a suicide by hanging.


How should you address a coroner in an official letter?

The Honorable (First Name) (Last name)


(First Name) (Last Name), County Coroner


Coroner (First Name, Last Name)
Coroner (Last Name)
“Hey, you….”
We aren’t picky.

I just received a copy of my grandmother’s death certificate. The cause of death was listed as: “Intestinal toxemia causing heart failure.” If she were to die today, what would a coroner list as the cause of death?

Probably:  Heart Failure due to Ischemic Bowel.


Imagine a person is killed by overdose. As they die, can they spell out the letters of the killer in sign language, and somehow hold that position after death?
What?  No.


Does an overdose of heroin and fentanyl cause bleeding from the mouth?
It causes fluid to back up in the lungs which will ultimately come out the mouth and nose.  It is usually blood mixed with a watery fluid and it is usually frothy looking due to the air in the lungs.  This is referred to as a “foam cone”.  Short answer, yes, it is quite common to see what appears to be bleeding from the mouth in an opiate overdose.


If a person was in a freezer dead for about 24hrs, how long would it take examiners to determine if the person was raped?
However much time it takes for the sexual assault kit to be analyzed, frozen body or not.  If there is trauma from the rape, that would be noted at autopsy.


While doing an autopsy is there tell tale signs death was due to smothering/strangulation?
Smothering – sometimes, mostly yes.
Strangulation – yes.
Without knowing your intent with this question, I am hesitant to give away too much detail.


How long does it take to die in a freezer?
Minutes.  It depends on the size of the person and the size of the freezer.


My brother died on August 3rd, 2017 and the coroner stated they couldn’t find the reason for his death because he was dead/decade for 24 hours. Why is this?
Without knowing more, my guess is that your brother had an electrical issue with his heart.  The heart can stop suddenly due to an electrical issue.  Not saying he was electrocuted, but that the current that made his heart beat may have been working improperly.  We can’t see electrical issues at death.  His heart would have to be sent to a cardiopathologist for the best answers.  Sudden death is almost always due to a heart issue.  If they didn’t see anything at autopsy or looking under a microscope at heart tissue, it was most likely a conductivity issue.


Can a parent request no pubic information of her grown son’s death be unsearchable so that no police reports ,medical forms, 911 calls, corners report’s be found? 
In my state, no.  I am not sure if it varies state-by-state. Generally, deaths, including the circumstances surrounding the death is considered a public health matter and is available to the public for public interest.


My husband and I have a 15 yr old daughter who is aspiring to be a coroner. She asked for a dissection kit and we talked to her teacher about what to buy and so forth. Do you have any advice? Is it creepy or abnormal for a young girl to be interested and know so much about the human body and anatomy from a young age? 
Encourage her to be a forensic pathologist – not a coroner.  The demand will be great and she will be financially secure!  Coroners are elected and the job market is limited to regions.  However, a forensic pathologist – the doctor who performs the autopsies – can go anywhere and consistently be in demand.  Definitely encourage her.  And no it’s not weird – it’s awesome to know what you love and have a plan.


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2 thoughts on “Ask a Coroner Q&A – Part 4

  • Tammy

    My friend died September 14th 2017 from a infection he was 28 years old,he was at my house the night before fine we fixed his bike light and hung out and talked 9 hrs later he is on his way to the ER as a John Doe next day I’m told he past away from a infection so right away I try to find a 911 report or police or anything nothing and still today nothing and his mom said she made it to where nothing would be public why and if this is possible please point me in the right path it doesn’t seem right to me