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Pursuant to Wisconsin State Statute 979.01, the Medical Examiner's Office is required to investigate deaths that fall into the following categories: •All deaths in which there are unexplained, unusual or suspicious circumstances. •Homicides •Suicides •Maternal deaths following abortion. •Deaths due to poisoning, whether homicidal, suicidal, or accidental. •Deaths following accidents, whether the injury is or is not the primary cause of death. •When there was no physician or accredited practitioner in attendance within 30 days preceding death. •When a physician refuses to sign or is unable to sign the death certificate. •Deaths of inmates of public institutions, who have not been hospitalized for organic illness. •Deaths that occur in association with, or as a result of diagnostic, therapeutic, or anesthetic procedures. •Deaths due to neglect. •Fetus of 20 weeks or older, unattended by a physician or practitioner. •Sudden deaths of persons not disabled by recognizable disease processes, in which a fracture of a major bone (femur, humerus, or tibia) has occurred within the past six months. •Deaths occurring outside of a hospital or nursing home, and not enrolled in a palliative care program under the care of a physician. •Occupational related deaths attributable entirely or in part to external work place factors. •Sudden and unexpected deaths occurring in infants or children under the age of 2, under circumstances not explained by a pre-existing medical problem.
In the course of an autopsy, samples of various organs, tissues and body fluids are retained for additional studies, if warranted. These studies include toxicology (testing for drugs, etc.), microscopic examination and microbiology (bacterial, viral, or fungal cultures). In addition, other items of evidence may be collected, such as trace evidence, bullets, knife blades, ligatures, hair, fingernail clippings, sexual assault swabs, etc.
Because Kenosha County has a lay-person Medical Examiner, all autopsies are performed at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office by a board-certified forensic pathologist.
All personal property that is received with the decedent’s body is released to the funeral home chosen by the legal next of kin. In some instances, personal property may be retained by law enforcement or the KCMEO for evidentiary purposes. A property release form listing all property with the decedent is signed by the person transporting the decedent for the funeral home.
Toxicology analysis is one of the most frequent reasons for delay in completing an investigation and death certificate. Forensic toxicology (in KCMEO cases) is very different from the drug testing performed in hospitals. Toxicology analysis may only take 4-6 weeks if no drugs are present; however, 8-12 weeks are typically required to perform the necessary confirmations and quantitations of drugs detected. Longer toxicology turn-around times are required in cases where numerous drugs are involved, where unusual drugs are involved, or if the person is decomposed.
Finally, the death investigation may be prolonged if the initial suspicions are not confirmed. The KCMEO may also confer with the law enforcement agency investigating the death to consider other possibilities (asking the police to return to the scene of death or to interview additional witnesses).
As one might suspect, all death investigations are different, and determining the cause and manner of death may require a great number of steps, each requiring time to complete---the time needed to complete some of these steps may not be under the control of the KCMEO. We greatly appreciate the patience of families and friends in these matters as we try to provide accurate and complete answers.
An important goal of the death investigation system is to determine the cause and manner of death. The cause of death is any injury or disease that alters one's physiology sufficiently to result in death - for example, gunshot wound, coronary heart disease, or cancer. The manner of death explains how the cause came about, and may be categorized as natural, accident, suicide, or homicide, or in some cases, "undetermined." Typically the cause of death is determined via autopsy, while the manner of death is based on investigation.