In small counties such as San Juan, the duties of the County coroner are combined
with the prosecuting attorney.
The coroner is responsible for investigating and certifying the cause of death in
those cases where death is sudden, unexpected, or the result of an accident or unlawful
Randall K. Gaylord and Charles Silverman are available 24/7 to respond to a death,
and to investigate and answer questions.
Because we are trained as lawyers, not doctors, we rely on the assistance of many
others to accomplish our work. We coordinate with sheriff deputies, local doctors
and medical staff, hospice workers, forensic pathologists, regional medical examiners,
investigators, and family members and next of kin.
There is no morgue in San Juan County and the coroner has no vehicles or equipment.
The remains of deceased persons within the jurisdiction of the coroner are transported
by Evans Funeral Home of Anacortes or the Snohomish County Medical Examiner.
If an autopsy is necessary to determine the cause of death, the procedure takes
place at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner facility in Everett.
In cooperation with local doctors, the coroner does not assume jurisdiction in those
cases where death is anticipated due to natural causes or disease. This office has
implemented a procedure known as NJA ("No Jurisdiction Assumed") which requires
a caregiver to obtain a signed statement from the treating physician and provide
that statement to the coroner before death. A copy of the NJA form is provided below.
REPORTING A DEATH TO THE CORONER
AS PER RCW 68.50.020:
Every person who knows of the existence or location of a dead body must notify the
coroner in the most expeditious manner, unless the person knows that the coroner
has already been given notice of the death. Persons who do not report the existence
of a dead body to the coroner are guilty of a misdemeanor. In San Juan County notification
is usually made by calling the sheriff's dispatcher at 360-378-4151.
PER RCW 68.50.010:
A coroner investigates the cause and manner of death of persons within his or her
jurisdiction. A coroner has jurisdiction over dead bodies only. A coroner does not
have jurisdiction over surviving persons who are found near death or unconscious.
The local law enforcement agencies have the jurisdiction to investigate these matters.
There are two types of jurisdiction that concern a coroner and the requirements
of both types must be met before a coroner has valid jurisdiction. A coroner's legal
jurisdiction is the jurisdiction authorized by the legislature and the Washington
courts' interpretation of the statutes. A coroner's geographic jurisdiction is limited
to the boundaries of the county in which he or she has been elected or appointed.
Geographic jurisdiction is determined by the place where the death occurs or where
the body is found, not by the place where the mortal incident occurs.
TYPES OF DEATHS TO BE REPORTED TO THE CORONER
AS PER RCW 68.50.010:
The coroner is given jurisdiction over all bodies of deceased persons when one or
more of the following circumstances apply:
- Persons who die suddenly when in apparent good health and without medical attention
within the thirty-six hours preceding death;
- Circumstances indicate death caused entirely, or in part, by unnatural or unlawful
- Suspicious circumstances;
- Unknown or obscure causes;
- Deaths caused by any violence whatsoever, whether the primary cause or any contributory
factor in the death;
- Contagious disease;
- Bodies that are not claimed; or
- Premature and stillborn infants.
NO JURISDICTION ASSUMED CASES
AS PER RCW 68.50.010:
Upon receiving the report of a death, the coroner determines whether or not to assume
jurisdiction of that death. The coroner will assume jurisdiction of all deaths involving
any type of trauma, accident, or violence.
"No Jurisdiction Assumed" (NJA) cases are most frequently those in which the deceased
was without medical care for thirty-six hours preceding death and death is thought
to be from natural causes. The coroner's office may apply a narrow interpretation
of the legislative language "persons who come to their death suddenly when in apparent
good health without medical attendance within the thirty-six hours preceding death."
If both conditions (lack of medical care and apparent good health) apply, it is
clearly an unexpected death and the coroner must assume jurisdiction. If one or
both conditions do not apply, the case may be
placed in the NJA category.
In order to qualify as an "NJA" case, there must be an attending outside physician
who has knowledge and awareness of the patient's natural disease condition and is
therefore able to reasonably certify the cause of death. The physician is responsible
for certifying death on all NJA cases.
After receiving a report of a death, a coroner must determine whether or not to
assume jurisdiction of the case. If the coroner decides not to take jurisdiction,
that case may follow a "No Jurisdiction Assumed" procedure. Every NJA case should
be given a local coroner NJA number. In certain counties, Vital Statistics of the
local health department may not clear the death certificate without the NJA number.
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