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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:
An autopsy is a medical examination of a decedent. It consists of two parts: an external examination and an internal examination.
During the external examination, the decedent is first examined as received (including any clothing present), again after removal of clothing, and yet again after being cleaned up. Throughout the examination process, the findings (traumatic injuries, disease states, etc.) are documented. Following the external examination, the decedent is then examined internally. All organs and tissues are examined for the presence of injuries and pre-existing natural diseases.
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). 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.
In some cases, the cause of death is evident at the time of autopsy. The death certificate is completed immediately, and the examination report will typically be mailed out shortly thereafter. In other cases, the cause of death may require additional studies and therefore, additional time.
Many studies require the processing and analysis of specimens by consulting laboratories, whose turn-around times are not controlled by the KCMEO. Toxicology analysis is one of the most frequent reasons for the 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 take 4-6 weeks if no drugs are present. However, 8-12 weeks are typically required to perform the necessary confirmations and quantitative analysis of the 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.
In the state of Wisconsin, each county individually chooses between one of two death investigation systems: a Coroner system or a Medical Examiner system. Both systems have the same authority under Wisconsin state statute.
A Coroner system is supervised by a 'Coroner' who is elected. Coroners in the state of Wisconsin are not required to be physicians.
A Medical Examiner system is one in which the office is supervised by a 'Medical Examiner,' who is a county official appointed by the County Executive and/or the County Board of Supervisors. In the state of Wisconsin, a Medical Examiner is not required to be a physician. Kenosha County operates as a Medical Examiner system.
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, a 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, homicide or in some cases, "undetermined." Typically, the cause of death is determined via autopsy. While the manner of death is based on an investigation.