Coroner, assistant postmortem investigators
M.D. Kincaid Correspondent
It’s not exactly like CSI, but like their TV counterparts, Kootenai County Coroner Dr. Robert West and his assistant, Jody DeLuca-Hissong, respond to crime scenes, accidents and other deaths to recover clues for postmortem investigation.
The coroner, who holds a public office, investigates when no physician was present at the person’s death; when the circumstances suggest that the death occurred as a result of other than natural causes; when the body can’t be located; or when the death is a stillbirth of a fetus 20 weeks old or more.
A certificate of death must be filed with the local registrar within five days of the death. On average, 900 to 1,000 deaths are recorded yearly in Kootenai County.
DeLuca-Hissong, 61, is a registered nurse who previously worked in private practice with Dr. Bill Wood and West. West, 68, graduated from Harvard Medical School and operated a private surgical practice in Coeur d’Alene from 1969 to 2003. Here’s what they have to say about their jobs:
What is your job title? DeLuca-Hissong: Chief Deputy Kootenai County Coroner. West: Kootenai County Coroner
How long have you been doing this? DeLuca-Hissong: 22 years. West: 35 years.
How did you choose this line of work? Deluca-Hissong: “I worked for Dr. Wood when he was the coroner. I did so much work to assist him in that function that I joked he should make me deputy coroner. He got approval, made me the deputy and 22 years later, I’m still doing this.”
West: “I was originally the deputy under Dr. Wood (35 years ago) and was appointed coroner when he retired. I was elected to the position in 1984.”
Are you paid: (a) well; (b) more than you are worth; (c) slave wages; (d) could be better? Both answered “d.” West explained, “Our salary is based on less than part-time work.”
What is the best thing about your job? DeLuca-Hissong: “I have a great boss and we have a great working relationship with law enforcement. It is interesting and challenging work.” West: “We are able to direct our limited resources to an increasingly complex series of deaths in Kootenai County, encompassing a wide range of causes, from accidents to homicides.”
What is the worst thing about your job? DeLuca-Hissong: “Deaths of babies and children.” West: “Death is never an entertaining part of life, but necessary. Sometimes the needless cause for death is a concern.”
Do you plan on doing this job (a) until retirement; (b) until something better comes along? Both answered “a.” West noted since retiring from his private medical practice, he can now dedicate more time to coroner work.
Do you have any on-the-job funny stories? DeLuca-Hissong: The case of the missing body: “This is not really funny, but I once responded to a report of a suicide, expecting to find a body. When I got there, I was surprised: no corpse! The person initially survived and had been transported to the hospital.” West: Filling out the tag: “A victim of a bad car wreck, returning from hunting, was transported to the hospital where (as attending physician and surgeon) I worked to save him for an hour. He had bad fractures and multiple injuries. All efforts failed and he died. In my job as the coroner and attending physician, I had to advise the wife. I explained all the best efforts were used, but he passed away. The wife, obviously in shock, asked ‘Well, just who is going to fill out his moose tag, then?’ “
Any bad experiences? DeLuca-Hissong: “A lady died in a car wreck and the last reports were she was last seen with a child. There was panic, as we looked all around but couldn’t find the child anywhere near the crash site. Fortunately, the child was later found safe elsewhere.” West: “Deaths, which impact family or friends of the family that are unexpected.”
If there was a movie made about you and your job, what actor should play you? Deluca-Hissong: “Susan Pleshette, as people have told me we look alike.” West: “My granddaughter, actress Naomi West.”
That Thing You Do
Editor’s note: Everyone who works for a living has a job, but some people have jobs that are downright unusual. This week the Handle Extra kicks off the twice-monthly feature “That Thing You Do,” which takes a look at North Idahoans who have chosen careers that are out of the ordinary.
Copyright c 2004 The Spokesman-Review
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