Yolo County Sheriff-Coroner – Coroner’s Section
January 10, 2008
By Beth Gabor, Yolo County Public Information Officer & Davis High School Intern Chris Lester
With the emergence of crime investigation television shows such as “CSI” and “Law & Order,” forensic science and investigation has garnered unprecedented attention. But what would it really be like to investigate deaths and conduct autopsies on a daily basis? Few know better than the men and women of the Yolo County Coroner’s Section. Located under the auspices of the Sheriff’s Department, the Coroner’s office investigates all sudden, violent, or unusual deaths that occur in Yolo County.
Specifically, the Coroner’s chief duty is to determine the cause and manner of death in homicide, suicide, accident, natural, and undetermined cases from scene investigation, examination of evidence, interviews, medical record review, toxicological analysis, forensic pathology examinations and autopsies. This process includes determining the manner of death, whether it be homicide, accident, suicide, natural, or undetermined, identifying the deceased through fingerprints, dental records, DNA and other records, establishing the manner of death, locating the next of kin and notifying them of the death, examining evidence, and securing the decedent’s property. In addition, the Coroner’s office is also responsible for issuing the certificate of death as well as testifying in court if they are needed.
The Coroner’s Section facilities, including a centralized office, morgue, and lab area, are located with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department on 2500 East Gibson Road in Woodland. From this location, coroners have all the necessary resources and equipment needed to do their jobs, including two autopsy suites with a separate viewing room, full-body and dental x-ray equipment, a darkroom, a walk-in refrigerator, an ultra-low temperature deep freezer, and two evidence/property rooms.
These extensive facilities, along with a talented, experienced staff that includes one Chief Deputy Coroner, four Deputy Coroners, one Records Clerk, and five Coroner Student Interns ensures that Yolo County consistently has one of the best coroner sections in the area. Investigators’ backgrounds include Master and Bachelor Degrees in Biological Systems, Engineering, Psychology, Human Gross Anatomy, Forensic Science, Criminal Justice, Chemistry, and Microbiology. In addition to paid staff members, the Coroner’s Office offers a student internship program. Originating in 1993, the program offers upper division medical students the opportunity to participate in an intensive, hands-on experience that spans multiple fields, from chemistry to criminal justice to psychology.
Chief Deputy Coroner Robert LaBrash explains working a death investigation this way: “It’s similar to putting a puzzle together, but without the benefit of the picture on the box as a guide. One would start the puzzle by arranging all the edge pieces, then group similar colors together. Eventually, you have a fairly good idea of what the puzzle is about, enough to authoritatively describe the image. Some death investigations are easier, such as a Spongebob Squarepants puzzle I’d put together with my kids. Others are the thousand-piece puzzles that demand more time and attention. Regardless of the type of case, our philosophy is the same; every death is a homicide until proven otherwise. That way you don’t miss anything.”