When does the Coroner's Office get involved?
The Vernon County Coroner's Office is authorized by Wisconsin State Statute 979.0 to investigate sudden or unexpected, violent, suspicious, or unnatural deaths to ensure the safety, health and welfare of the community. The office provides investigation, documentation, and medical evaluation of reportable cases. All deaths in Vernon County regardless of cause and manner are reportable to the Coroner's office. The Coroner / Deputy Coroner will determine if our office will need to investigate deaths reported to our office.
The Coroner's Office, as defined by State statute, is not a part of any police agency, Sheriff's Department or hospital. Our top priority is to honor the deceased while serving the living. We accomplish this by working with the family of the deceased and assisting them in dealing with their loss. We understand that the loss of a loved one is a tremendous shock for family and friends. Once the deceased is under our jurisdiction, we provide family with appropriate information on all procedures. We attempt to comfort grieving family by providing relevant and informative literature and resources.
The Coroner's office works collaboratively with the local Law Enforcement Agencies, District Attorney Office and any other Crime Scene Investigator's responding to the scene, to bring trained medical evaluation to the investigation of deaths that are of concern to the public health, safety and welfare of the Vernon County Residents. The Coroner's Office strives to provide an unbiased cause and manner of death. This is accomplished through careful examination and gathering of evidence at the death scene.
- Betty Nigh - Coroner
- Janet Reed - Chief Deputy Coroner
- Stephen Sailsbery - Deputy Coroner
- Mona Bader - Deputy Coroner
- Tammy Hanson - Administrative Assistant to Coroner
There are no set office hours as the Vernon County Coroner is on-call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. You may call 608-637-5284 and leave a message and we will return your phone call as soon as possible. If you need to speak to the Coroner or Deputy Coroner immediately, please call the Vernon County Sheriff's Department Dispatch at 608-637-2123, select option 1 and ask to have the Coroner paged. You may also email the Coroner at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why is the Coroner involved?
Pursuant to Wisconsin State Statute 979.01, the Coroner 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 injuries is or is not the primary cause of 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 practioner.
- 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 hospice program under the care of a physician.
- Occupational related deaths attributable entirely or in a part to external work place factors.
- Sudden and unexpected deaths occurring in infants or children under age 2, under circumstances not explained by a pre-existing medical problem.
What should I do after being made aware of a death and the involvement of the Coroner?
Selection of a funeral home or cremation facility of your choice is important for your loved ones released from our custody. Select a funeral home or cremation facility and advise the funeral director of the involvement of our office. Funeral directors are familiar with the operation of our office and will assist you in making all the arrangements for final disposition, including obtaining a death certificate. The funeral director will also receive the decedent's personal property that is not being held as evidence.
What is the normal process of a death investigation?
In many cases when there is a sudden or unexpected death, at least two jurisdictional agencies are likely to be involved. Law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction over the scene and associated physical evidence. The Coroner's office is responsible for the body of the decedent and any physical evidence in direct contact with the body. With the exception of life-saving efforts by EMS personnel, the body must not be touched or moved by anyone without the permission of the Coroner. In many cases the Coroner will respond to the scene at the request of local law enforcement. The Coroner will examine the body and photograph the scene prior to releasing the body to the funeral home. At the funeral home, the Coroner may conduct a more thorough examination of the body and if indicated, collect biological samples.
Will it be possible to donate organs or tissues?
Yes. The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult things you will face. But during this time, you can make a decision that offers your family members the opportunity to give a final gift to someone else in need. This decision may also offer you and your family some comfort in knowing that another person's life was saved by this special gift. You and your family may be contacted by a member of an organ or tissue agency. At this time, you will be asked to consider a donation as a possible last act for your loved one. Depending on your situation, you may be offered the option to consent to the donation of certain organs, tissues, bones, eyes or corneas.
Please be assured that:
- Organ and tissue/eye donation is, in essence, a gift of life. Each tissue is extremely valuable to the recipient.
- The donation will not delay the funeral or memorial service and will still allow for open casket viewing if desired.
- Your family will not incur additional medical costs because of donation.
Every year, families are offered the opportunity to give the gift of life through donation. We understand the decision to donate is a difficult and personal choice. One in which often needs to be made at a time when the family is experiencing a traumatic loss. We encourage you to discuss this topic with your family and loved ones.
There are no funds for burial. What can I do?
If the deceased or the legal next of kin do not have sufficient funds for burial, the alternative might be to apply for State Assistance as no funds are available for burial expenses at the county level anymore. If applying for assistance, proof of indigence is required. Your Funeral Director can assist you with this process as it involves applying to the State of Wisconsin Funeral and Cemetery Aids Program to determine if the deceased or legal next of kin is eligible for any assistance.
Will an autopsy be performed?
The Vernon County Coroner's Office will consider the facts of each case individually, and determine what level of investigation / examination is necessary to determine the cause and manner of death and clarify the circumstances surrounding the death. In some cases, this will require the performance of an autopsy.
Is there a charge for an autopsy?
There is not a charge for an autopsy ordered by the Coroner or for any other duties the Coroner performs outside of the fees charged for Death Certificates, Cremation Permits and records requests. If the family wishes to pursue an autopsy or any other testing on their own, they would be financially responsible for those charges and any other related expenses such as transporting the deceased to and from the autopsy, and to make the arrangements for those services. The Vernon County Coroner's office cannot make recommendations on providers for those services.
Will an autopsy affect funeral arrangements?
The performance of an autopsy should NOT affect funeral arrangements. The incisions made during the autopsy are easily concealed by a funeral director and are not visible during the funeral visitation. The performance of the autopsy should not delay the funeral under most circumstances
Who can I speak to about a death investigation?
To inquire about a death investigation, you can contact the Vernon County Coroner's Office at 608-637-5284 at any time. You must provide your name, the name of the deceased, the date of death (actual or approximate), and your relationship to the deceased. Please keep in mind that, while we do our best to keep families informed, we may not be able to answer all questions if the investigation is incomplete or if released of the information would compromise an active criminal investigation.
How can I find out about the cause of death?
Following the post-mortem examination of the decedent's body, the Vernon County Coroner's office will contact the legal next of kin with the preliminary findings (if they wish to be notified). If the cause of death cannot be determined immediately (requiring further investigation and or studies), you may request a copy of the final autopsy report be mailed as soon as it is complete (there is no charge for this service for the next of kin).
How can I retrieve my loved one's personal possessions?
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 Coroner's office 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.
When will my loved one's body be released?
The Vernon County Coroner's Office does everything possible to complete examinations and release bodies within the shortest period possible. In the majority of cases, bodies are examined and released within 24 hours. Since autopsies are not routinely performed on Sundays or holidays, releases involving such periods may be delayed slightly.
How long does it take to get the results of the postmortem examination/investigation?
In some cases, the cause of death is evident at the time of the autopsy. In these cases, 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 of these studies require processing and analysis of specimens by consulting laboratories, whose turn-around times are not controlled by the Vernon County Coroner's Office. Toxicology analysis is one of the most frequent reasons for delay in completing an investigation and death certificate. Forensic Toxicology 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 quantitation 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 Vernon County Coroner's Office may 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 Vernon County Coroner's Office. We greatly appreciate the patience of families and friends in these matters as we try to provide accurate and complete answers.
How can I obtain a copy of the death certificate?
The death certificate is completed in two sections: the medical portion is completed by the Vernon County Coroner, while the remainder is completed by the funeral home. Once the death certificate is completed, it is the responsibility of the funeral home to file the document with the WI State Office of Vital Statistics. The funeral home can provide you with copies of the death certificate.
Copies of death certificates are also available through the Register of Deeds Office. The cost is $20.00 for the first certified copy and $3.00 for each additional certified copy.
Can a "pending" death certificate be used as proof of death?
Yes. "Pending" as cause and/or manner of death implies that additional studies are necessary, such as drug testing, microscopic tissue examination, etc. A death certificate, even a pending certificate, is a legal document which serves as proof that the named individual has been pronounced dead. If any problems arise in the acceptance of this document as proof of death, please call the office at 608-637-5284 for assistance.
What if the funeral is being held out of state?
When a funeral and burial is to be held in another state, the family should contact the funeral director of their choice in that state. That funeral director will then take charge of making arrangements for the transport of the decedent's body by contacting a local funeral director. The family should notify the out of state funeral director that the deceased's death is being investigated by the Vernon County Coroner's Office.
Thinking about a cremation?
No cremation can be carried out, by law, for at least 48 hours after the pronounced time of death. All cremations require a signed cremation permit from the Coroner's office before proceeding.
Once you have decided to have the decedent's body cremated, your funeral director will notify the Vernon County Coroner's office of your wishes. A fee for this service is charged to the funeral home.
What is the typical sequence of events that follow a death?
- The on-call Coroner will be notified of the death either by law enforcement, nursing/medical Staff, or by ER Personnel.
- The on-call Coroner will determine whether it has the legal authority and statutory responsibility to assume jurisdiction over the death. The Coroner will make this determination after assessing the circumstances surrounding the death.
- The death scene is visited and investigated.
- Information is collected regarding the circumstances surrounding the death, as well as, the deceased's medical and social history. Collecting the necessary information may include, but not limited to, interviewing witnesses, family, friends, etc., speaking with personal physicians/other medical staff, reviewing medical records, and conferring with law enforcement.
- The body is removed to the funeral home where a more thorough exam of the body is done. Biological samples may be taken at this time or an autopsy arranged. Tissue donation may be arranged at this time.
- Following examination and after ALL information has been collected and decisions on cause of death have been made, an official report of findings is prepared.
- A cremation permit may be completed at this time.
- The death certificate is completed or a pending death certificate is prepared if more time is required to complete further testing necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.
- Permanent records are kept for all cases investigated and examined. This information can therefore be accessed in the future for use in criminal and civil trials, for use in the processing of insurance or worker's compensation claims, for statistical analysis, and other manners. Records can only be released with the written consent of the legal next of kin and upon payment of the recorded fees.
Can the family assume disposition of human remains (Family Burial)?
Wisconsin Statutes 69.18 law allows a member of a decedent's immediate family to personally prepare and conduct the final disposition of the decedent. You will need to know and understand all of your legal responsibilities, including filing all required documents, as described below and in accordance with Wisconsin Statues. If you have additional questions about the legality of your intended plans for final disposition, you may want to seek legal counsel. For more information on this procedure, contact the State Vital Records Office at 608-266-1373 or DHSVitalRecords@wisconsin.gov.
What is the difference between a Coroner and a Medical Examiner?
In the State of Wisconsin, each county individually chooses between one of two death investigation systems: a Coroner system or a Medical Examiner system. 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, the Medical Examiner is not required to be a physician. Both systems have the same authority under Wisconsin State Statute. Vernon County operates as a "Coroner 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, 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 by medical history or autopsy, while the manner of death is based on investigation.
Information for Funeral Homes and Crematoriums
|2019 Fee Schedule|
|Signing a death certificate||$25.00|
|Disinterment permit||No charge|
Checks are made out to the Vernon County Coroner's Office and are mailed to the
Vernon County Coroner's Office at 318 Fairlane Drive, Suite 216, Viroqua, WI 54665
Information for Insurance Companies or Law Firms
All requests for records must be submitted in writing to the Coroner's office. There is a fee for $50.00 for the records being requested. Please submit the payment with the written request.