Coroner's Office Frequently Asked Questions

How are deaths reported to the Coroner’s Office?
Anyone can report a death to the coroner’s office.  Please call Rock County Dispatch at 608-757-2244 to request the on-call coroner be paged.  A coroner is available by pager 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Most often, a citizen will call 911 to report an unexpected death.  The 911 center will then dispatch emergency services (EMS, Fire, Police) to the location.  After it is decided that life saving efforts are not needed, police will secure the scene and request the coroner to be dispatched.  Hospitals, nursing homes and hospices also request the coroner through the dispatch center.

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What happens at the death scene?
Each scene is different, but the coroner generally performs the following activities:

  • Pronounce the legal date and time of death.
  • Determine the identity of the deceased, and find out the name and address of the next of kin.
  • Examine and document the scene and the body of the deceased.
  • Collect and/or record evidence.
  • Determine the estimated time of death.
  • Safeguard personal effects.
  • Notify the family/next of kin of the death if they are not already aware.
  • Conduct interviews with family, friends and witnesses to obtain information to help determine the circumstances of the death; including, medical history, recent activities, and drug and alcohol use.
  • Arrange autopsy if needed (determined by the coroner).
  • Maintain legal custody of the deceased until the remains are released to family/funeral home.
  • Provide coroner contact information to the family/next of kin.
  • Secure or release scene before leaving.

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How long does it take for a cause/manner of death ruling to be made?
The cause/manner of death ruling may take only a few days or as long as six months depending upon the circumstances of the death. For the great majority of cases the cause/manner of death determination is made within one week of the death. If an autopsy and toxicology tests are required, the final ruling may take up to six months. When the results of these tests are reviewed and the investigation is concluded, a ruling is made based on all available information.  The coroner’s office then shares that information with the family/next of kin. In rare cases, the cause and/or manner of death may be ruled undetermined.

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How long before the Coroner signs a completed death certificate?
Usually, a signed death certificate is issued within 1 - 5 days of the death. However, there are times when a "pending" death certificate is issued. The "pending" death certificate legally records the death and allows the funeral services to take place while additional testing and investigation continue. An “amended” death certificate is issued with the final cause of death when the investigation is completed – sometimes weeks or months later.

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How can the personal effects and other valuables of the deceased be obtained by the next of kin?
By state statue, the Coroner’s Office can take possession of monies and other personal effects of the deceased for safekeeping. These items are inventoried and released to the legal next of kin.  Usually the clothing of the deceased is released to the funeral director for disposal or return to the family. In cases of homicide, suicide, or vehicular death, the clothing and personal property may be held as evidence by law enforcement. In some cases the clothing may be destroyed if is it considered to be a biohazard.  Contact our office to make arrangements for release of property held by the coroner.

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What happens if there is no legal next of kin or an identity cannot be established?
If the identity of the deceased is established, and no next-of-kin/responsible person can be located or reached after reasonable efforts are made, the possessions of the deceased remain in the custody of our office for up to one year. The Coroner assumes the responsibility for arranging burial, and Rock County pays the expenses of the burial.  Any property held by the coroner after one year is turned over to the Sheriff. The probate court finalizes the matter of the estate.  The county sells the possessions at auction and the funds are placed in the county treasury.

If the deceased is not identified, the coroner’s office works in conjunction with local law enforcement and forensic experts using a variety of techniques to establish positive identification. The investigation is ongoing until the identity is established.  The remains of the deceased are buried and personal property is stored until identification is made, and can then be released to the next of kin or other responsible person.

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Who decides if an autopsy is performed?
The Coroner’s Office will determine if an autopsy is needed based of the circumstances of the case, and each case is determined individually.  The wishes of the family - based on personal, cultural and religious beliefs - are also considered.  Autopsies are not ordered “by request”.  Families wishing to pursue a private autopsy may contact the Coroner’s Office or their local hospital for names of area pathologists.

 

Contact Information

3530 N County Highway F
Janesville, WI  53545

Phone:    (608) 757-5908
Fax:        (608) 758-8438

Chief Deputy Coroner
Louis C. Smit,
F-ABMDI, NAME Affiliate

Rock County, State of Wisconsin
All Rights Reserved