Author Question: Police Death Notification

In my writing life, I’ve met some fantastic police officers. My own brother is a county sheriff close to where I live so I use him a lot for questions. I’ve also gotten to meet many other great police officers and one was very helpful in giving me a detailed SWAT scenario for my most release, Peril.

Darcie sent me some police type questions and I passed them along to Seargent S. Tarr and he provided the following insight.

Darcie asks:

What I learned so far is that if my Main character (Kelley)’s parents’ bodies were found along a hiking trail near Glenwood Springs, the Denver Police would visit her house to break the news since Kelley lives in the Denver area.
Sergeant Tarr: Yes, if a person is found to be deceased the next of kin is notified by the jurisdiction that the person’s family is located. They would usually send a marked patrol unit and a victim advocate. We call it a death notification. Sometime the coroner will also go if it’s in the same jurisdiction. 
Darcie: That leaves me now with, since at first this appears to be a hiking accident, where would the bodies be? Coroner? 
Sergeant Tarr: It doesn’t matter if it appears to be an accident or not. The coroner would handle the investigation into the cause of death and police in the manner (like a homicide, scene traffic accident, suicide etc..) So it would be a joint investigation regardless. The only time the coroner and law enforcement don’t do an investigation is if it happens in a hospital or in the care of medical staff. So the coroner would take the body and most likely perform an autopsy. Would be very uncommon for them not to. The coroner would then rule on the cause of death ie: natural, suicide, accidental, etc.. 
Darcie: Would there be an autopsy? 

Sergeant Tarr: An autopsy would be performed by the jurisdiction that the death happened. The pathologist could be from Denver. I know for example that the pathologist from Fort Collins comes down to Denver to conduct autopsies. The Arapahoe examiner has also traveled to other coroner’s offices to assist. 

Darcie: Would Kelley have to go ID them even though they had drivers licenses etc on them?

Sergeant Tarr: This depends on if a positive ID can be made with the id or not. Like if their face was ripped off, sorry to sound crude. They can also put their fingerprints through AFIS to see if they can get an ID that way also. Sometimes the family has to ID the body if no positive ID can be made. It is usually the last thing done. Once the coroner releases the bodies it would be picked up by a funeral service. They would transport the bodies back to Denver for the funeral arrangements.

Author Question: Delivering Bad News

John Asks:

I’m killing off the husband of a wife. He’s had a car accident and will die in the ER. His jeep was T-boned, rolled, and he was thrown out of the vehicle into oncoming traffic. The first vehicle rolled over his legs. She’s been called to the ER. Can you point me to a good write-up of what would go on in the ER for both him and his wife as she arrives? 
Jordyn Says:
I don’t know of one specific source so I’m including some links to my blog that talk about care of the car accident victim.

As far as the wife– typically news of a patient’s death is not given over the phone. We usually say something like, “My name is Jordyn and I’m the nurse taking care of Johnny. He was involved in a car accident and is critically ill and we need you to come to the hospital. Please take your time and drive safely and we’ll talk more when you get here.”

When the spouse arrives they are usually taken to a small family room where the attending physician and likely the nurse (or some other person who can care for the spouse so the physician can leave) delivers the bad news. We don’t use phrases like passed on, gone home, or lost the battle. It usually goes something like– “Johnny was involved in a serious car accident. Despite our best efforts your husband died from his injuries.”

The first part should be short and to the point because families don’t hear much after you tell them that their loved one has died. Then we’ll usually take the family’s lead and let them ask whatever questions they need to.

Usually there is some prepping of the body so it’s as presentable as possible. However, if the patient is going to be a coroner’s case then all lines and tubes must be left in place. This is explained to the family as well as to what they’ll see when they get into the room.

“I’m going to take you to see Johnny now. Just so you’re aware he has a tube still left in his mouth and nose and several IV’s in place. His face is very bruised from the car accident and his left arm is deformed from a broken bone.”

Something along those lines. Even if the patient hasn’t died– we do try and prep the family for what they will see.

Families are given as much time as they want to be with the patient. If the ED is CRAZY busy and we absolutely need the room, arrangements might be made for the patient to go to a med/surg room to give the family more time with the body. It would mean needing to move the patient out of the ER for this and would be very rare.