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Coroner critics: Inaction harms families



Published: Thu, April 29, 2010 @ 12:08 a.m.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

milliken@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Academic experts say the Mahoning County coroner’s refusal to open his morgue last weekend after Saturday’s triple-fatal car crash in Campbell was inconsistent with the goal of timely death notifications to families.

“The first rule of this is to do no further harm, and it would appear that further harm was done to these families by the delay ... by putting budget and other concerns ahead of the needs of those families,” said Mary G. Wilson, assistant professor of justice studies at Kent State University Trumbull Campus.

She was referring to the county’s elected part-time coroner, Dr. David M. Kennedy, who said he didn’t consider it necessary to open his office on the weekend to allow police to confirm the identities of the victims. Kennedy said he believed police already had the identification information they needed on the three deceased.

“He didn’t follow his responsibility. He should have opened it up,” during the weekend, Catherine L. Kieley, coordinator of public safety training and the police academy at KSUTC, said of police access to the morgue.

Families need timely notification to begin their grieving and mourning process, Wilson said.

“It has to be family-centered, especially when you’re talking about death notification. You have to put them at the forefront,” she added.

Dead at the accident scene were the car’s occupants, Elijah B. Paige, 20, the driver, and Poetry H. Dotson, 21, both of Campbell, and Ian A. Stores, 17, of Boardman. The sole surviving occupant was Malquan Patton, 17, of Campbell, who was taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center in critical condition.

When the car crashed at 5:03 a.m. Saturday into the house, police estimated it was traveling between 80 and 90 mph. Nobody in the house was injured.

“It concerns me greatly that individuals chose not to open” the morgue or go to the accident scene “when they should have been there,” Wilson said, referring to the decisions by Dr. Kennedy.

The coroner cited budget constraints in his decision to lay off one of his three investigators at the end of this month and stop sending the investigators to death scenes, effective April 19. The coroner, who spent $637,838 from the county’s general fund last year, has a budget of $600,000 this year. Dr. Kennedy earns $63,255 annually and said he devotes an average of 15 to 20 hours a week to his coroner’s job.

“I find it surprising” that Dr. Kennedy opted not to go or send anyone to the crash scene, Wilson said. “I’ve been at a number of crime scenes and accident scenes over the years, and there’s always been somebody from the medical examiner’s office,” at a death scene, she said.

“I cannot recall a time when they would not be,” at such a scene, she added.

“That office has to serve the public, and they have to have somebody available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Kieley said. “He should have either been there himself or had somebody” else at the scene.

Dr. Kennedy said he didn’t think he’d learn much by going to the scene beyond what police had found there.

For medical and emergency response professionals, a 9-to-5 attitude toward the job is inappropriate, Wilson added.

When she was a victim advocate at the nonprofit Victim Assistance Program in Akron and made death notifications, she was on round-the-clock call and received no overtime pay, Wilson said.

Kieley said she wonders why the coroner’s investigators don’t have staggered days and hours of work.

When a reporter asked Dr. Kennedy about staggering workdays to achieve seven-day-a-week investigator coverage at a news conference, he replied: “There’s still the work to be done Monday through Friday. Unfortunately, there is more work than just one investigator can handle. I’m not sure two investigators are going to be enough to handle this workload.”


Comments

1opddad(61 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Doc Kennedy is quoted saying," I’m not sure two investigators are going to be enough to handle this workload.”

Not sure? Not sure? How long has he been "running" the coroner's office? I think with a little "creativity," by Doc Kennedy, a solution to that problem,could be achieved.. Oh wait, that wouldn't be ethical..would it?

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2Lifes2Short(3875 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

This is really getting over killed. Geez.

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3tonyb2913(20 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

how is it overkill kids died

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4Lifes2Short(3875 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

tonyb
HELLO, Talking about the bi@34ing and moaning about Dr. Kennedys actions. Read the article before you comment. It's not talking about the accident or all the kids that are dying. Try to think before you comment.

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5Reader(126 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

To lifes2short:
I for one certaily do not feel this coverage is overkill. I actually appreciate the fact that this corornors actions and lack of public service has NOT gotten swept under the rug! If the vindy and other news outlets did not give adequate coverage on this matter, how would we make an informed decision come election time? Our tax dollars are paying him more to have a title and do nothing 15 hrs a week than most families make working 40+ and yet we pay his salary.

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6Xavier1964(1 comment)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

I feel for the poor families losing their loved ones. But has anyone even questioned why these three people were driving through a residential between 80 to 90 miles an hour @ 5:00 AM? One person only 17. I won't criticize parenting, but will say when I was that age I know I wouldn't have been out beyond possibly 11 on a Friday or Saturday night.. Again I am sorry for the families loss but can you people focus on why they were driving so fast in a residential neighborhood?

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7Citizengirl(5 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Lack of public service? Have we taken the time to look at it from the other point of view?

If Dr. Kennedy would have allowed the family into the morgue on Saturday without the aid of his staff (which would have cost money as he had already pointed out weeks ago), would there not be a liability on the part of the county? A liability not only in physical safety of anyone who entered the morgue but also in the possible compromise of any physical evidence that is part of pending investigation and autopsy? Is this a liability that Traficanti, or you for that matter, then is saying he would want to the county to be open to? It seems Dr. Kennedy was interested in protecting the county from this type of scenario more than anyone gives him credit for. I don't think that this is a question of being heartless or lacking compassion as some of you assert, instead, I think it's an example of the type of politician and county official you seem to be begging for. He's being responsible on the part of the county, and would you not have crucified him if he put in the county into a liability or debt-incurring situation? Or gone back on his word as so many of our local politicians do? I would like to remind you that you continually ask what he would do if it was his child. I put to you the question, what would you do if you had to make his decisions and try to remain objective? And I am talking real objectivity. I doubt any of you have the gumption or the sense to hold such an office, do it well and do it without controversy for 16 years. Has anyone wondered why this has been made into such an issue a week before election time? I doubt that Dr. Kennedy is the one making a political statement, maybe you should put Traficanti under a spotlight.

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81970mach1(1005 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Xavier1964 (1 comment) posted 6 minutes ago

" has anyone even questioned why these three people were driving through a residential between 80 to 90 miles an hour @ 5:00 AM? "

"can you people focus on why they were driving so fast in a residential neighborhood?"

Is that really you, Mr. Kennedy?

The focus is on Kennedy's poor decisions after the fact. What difference does it make what time it was or how fast they were going? Does Kennedy have different policies for families of the dead dependent upon the deceased's speed or time of death?

And only one person was "driving" not three. Didn't you read the coroner's report from the scene? Oh, that's right,there wasn't one.

And we know why they were doing what they were doing. They were young and being stupid. Unfortunately they paid for it with their lives. The families paid double by being shut out by the coroner. And Kennedy should pay for it by losing his job next election in 2012.

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91970mach1(1005 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Citizengirl (2 comments) posted 20 minutes ago

If Dr. Kennedy would have allowed the family into the morgue on Saturday without the aid of his staff (which would have cost money as he had already pointed out weeks ago), would there not be a liability on the part of the county? A liability not only in physical safety of anyone who entered the morgue but also in the possible compromise of any physical evidence that is part of pending investigation and autopsy? Is this a liability that Traficanti, or you for that matter, then is saying he would want to the county to be open to? It seems Dr. Kennedy was interested in protecting the county from this type of scenario more than anyone gives him credit for.

Thanks for the info Mr. Kennedy, er, I mean Citizengirl. Apparently Mr. Kennedy doesn't realize the county has insurance for those types of liability, just like every homeowner too. And your scenarios are just plain ABSURD.

Kennedy would be better off by just coming out and saying, even if he doesn't believe it:

"You know, I just plain screwed up. If I could do it over again, I'd have sent an investigator or gone to the scene myself or opened up on Saturday for the police. I'm sorry for the stress this has caused the families. It was stupid what I did. I hope they can forgive me, and I genuinely hope they can find some comfort in the community's support during this tragedy.I make far too much money for part time work to have had such bad judgment, and any inconvenience I would have had is meaningless compared to the grief the families have. "

And then make plans to retire in 2012 or have a heck of a re-election fight.

I don't think Kennedy is evil or anything like that. He probably actually is a decent and good guy who just royally screwed up and is just digging his hole deeper by trying to make up excuses that just are not going to do him any good.

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10Citizengirl(5 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

The coroner's report is based upon that of the forensic pathologist and any investigation from the scene. (Stop watching so much CSI, and try to focus on how the real coroners' departments work.) Are you saying Campbell Police Department, which was on scene, can't handle a crash investigation?

And yes, maybe we should focus on why these children were out driving around at 5 a.m. at up to 90 mph since the responding officer was so quick to respond to media that they weren't being chased by the police. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

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11JohnDillon(2 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Citizen Girl, (I think I know you) what an intelligent comment and one that deals with facts not anger, emotions, agendas, hatred or stupidity as in so many other posts on here.

It is so easy to hide behind a post with one sided, cheap seat gun slinging. Oh and lets not forget to make the attacks personal.

Facts rarely are weighed and the playing field made fair when posts like many on here are made.

This is a horrific and gut wrenching tragedy beyond comprehension for the families and that is the real sad story and most tragic fact.

The families were not shut out by the coroner. Just look at and oh, maybe learn the facts. But that would get in the way of the one sided assault train that is so easy to ride on when you have no respect for the facts or anyone else but yourself and your blinded, personal agenda.

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12walter_sobchak(1893 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

This is ridiculous! First, we have a tragic situation where people, through their own stupidity and negligence, yes, are killed in an obvoiusly horrific crash. No need for the coroner to respond to the site. But, the coroner further compounded the tragedy by making the families of the victims wait until Monday morning to see the bodies. THIS IS CRUEL, no matter how you cut it. ANyone responding on this website that says otherwise is lying or a fool! I have no agenda and I don't know the coroner. What I know of him through third parties is that he is a good doctor and a good person. However, good people make mistakes and that is what is happening here. When Dr. Kennedy ran for the office, he was agreeing to serve the public to the best of his abilities. But, it seems to me that he is letting petty politics cloud his decision making. Therefore, it is time for him to leave public service because he has violated that trust. He has been there long enough, it seems. Dr. Kennedy should man-up and admit that what he did was cold and heartless and he should apologize to the public. Citizengirl and JohnDillon, do some research yourself. Under ORC, the coroner is given this highest office in county government because MD's are supposed to be good, caring, ethical people who take an oath to do no harm. Therefore, they have earned our respect. But, to act the way Dr. Kennedy has, causes me to lose respect in the man.

Now, these are rational opinions with no name calling and no agenda in place. But, I will not vote for the man again and neither will anyone in my family.

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131970mach1(1005 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Amazing. 3 people in this thread all making their first posts all in support of the coroner. Give it up. They sure do seem to know LOTS of details about the coroner's office and how it operates, too. I wonder how that is.

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14JohnDillon(2 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Walter_Sobchak-

Thanks for validating my comments and owning up to one sided viewpoints such as calling people liars and fools(thought you said you weren't name calling) with only PART of the facts delivered.

You also said you do not know Dr. Kennedy and have heard he is a good doctor and a good person, which he very much is!

How can you support that you are making rational decisions and points when you say he should leave the office for what he did because it was cold and heartless. Quite contradicting to your earlier comments and again without all of the facts.

Thanks Again Walter for supporting my earlier post!

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15SkyKing310B(253 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

This tragic and heartwrenching accident has revealed exactly what the Mahoning County's Coroner actually does for the people of Mahoning County. He is NOT a hands on coroner. He has a staff that takes care of the dead, paperwork, and finances. His budget was cut and he was NOT calling in his staff! This horrific incident will be swept under the rug and life will go on as usual at the coroner's office. Hopefully, a forensic pathologist will be Mahoning County's next Coroner!!!

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16Lifes2Short(3875 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Reader

"I for one certaily do not feel this coverage is overkill. I actually appreciate the fact that this corornors actions and lack of public service has NOT gotten swept under the rug! If the vindy and other news outlets did not give adequate coverage on this matter, how would we make an informed decision come election time? "

Why all this now? Because of a accident? Why wasn't there any coverage or response or meetings when Dr. Kennedy told the public what was going to happen? This should have been taken care of way before it came down to this. This should have been covered, analyzed and talked about when Dr. Kennedy came out about the cuts in the department and what was going to happen.

walter

"However, good people make mistakes and that is what is happening here. "

Exactly what mistake did Dr. Kennedy make? Did he not inform the public awhile back? Yes or No. How can that be a mistake when it's in black and white what was going to happen.

"He has been there long enough, it seems."

And that don't say nothing.

"Dr. Kennedy should man-up and admit that what he did was cold and heartless and he should apologize to the public."

Once again, he informed the public, it's not like the county didn't know what was going to happen. Why no uproar on the other 10 deaths over the weekend?

skyking

"Hopefully, a forensic pathologist will be Mahoning County's next Coroner!!! "

And I'm sure he'll do everything that Dr. Kennedy has done for 16 years until one incident (which everyone knew about before) and then he'll get thrown under the bus also.

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17SkyKing310B(253 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Lifes2Short

A forensic pathologist would do much more than what Dr. Kennedy has done for 16 years. The forensic pathologist would be doing the autopsies, gathering evidence for the cause of death, preparing the dead to be seen by family members for identification, and a list of many other duties. A forensic pathologist would have been able to prepare the bodies to be seen by the family him/herself without calling in a staff during a budget cut. Forensic pathologist is "HANDS ON" unlike Dr. Kennedy! The taxpayers would be actually paying for a Coroner that works and not a "figure head".

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18walter_sobchak(1893 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

JohnDillon,
No, I have not called Dr. Kennedy any names. I am saying that, in my opinion, people that lie to thamselves are fools. No name calling, just an observation. Call it what you want. I see what is going on here. I also said he owes an apology to the public because his ACTIONS were cold and heartless. But, I believe that he doesn't have the decency to serve the public and, for that, he should leave office. He is a public servant and he took the job knowing that. This is what happens when people are in an office too long; familiarity breeds contempt. C'mon, he couldn't have gone down to the morgue and let the families in? Seems to me he is playing petty politics. If that was one of your family members in the fridge there, you wouldn't want to have to wait until Monday morning.

LifeTooShort,
I don't have a problem with him not going to the scene, but to not go to the morgue and allow the families in isa mistake. He will pay for it if someone else runs against him. I'm tired of people running for office and forgetting they are public servants. He gets paid decent money to work in this position part-time. What other 10 deaths? Not every decedent is taken to the county morgue. A doctor can issue a finding under certain circumstances and the body can be released to a licensed funeral director. Once again, in my opinion, what he did was inexcusable, he owes the public an apology, and it would be very difficult to vote for him anymore. I've talked to many people and they share my opinion, even Irish people!

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19Lifes2Short(3875 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

"I don't have a problem with him not going to the scene, but to not go to the morgue and allow the families in isa mistake."

Did he not forewarn this was going to happen?
Did the county do anything about it at that time?
Didn't they think this would happen and they just brushed it under the table until it did and then throw the coroner to the wolves.

"He will pay for it if someone else runs against him."

Why hasn't no one run in 16 years? There has to be a reason. Maybe no one wants to put up with the problems of being a Mahoning County Coroner. I'm sure Dr. Kennedy would welcome someone else taking over.

"Once again, in my opinion, what he did was inexcusable, he owes the public an apology, and it would be very difficult to vote for him anymore."

Yes and I respect your opinion but why does he owe the public a apology? I can see if the public wasn't warned about it, then he's 100% wrong, but the public knew about it way before this happened. You can't say we weren't warned. For 16 years everyone could have written in a vote for someone, but no one did, no one complained about Dr. Kennedy in all that time and now he's getting all sorts of abuse.

“I’ve been at a number of crime scenes and accident scenes over the years, and there’s always been somebody from the medical examiner’s office,” at a death scene, she said. "

And this is a bold out lie from Mary G. Wilson.

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20CityDweller705(16 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

The Coroner's notification that this would happen does not justify what happened. Why is no one mentioning that his budget was only cut by $37,000 and that he has not laid off ANYONE yet and had his full compliment of investigators at the time of the crash. Yes, someone should have called him on it as soon as he made that stupid statement that they would not be responding to death scenes unless it it 9-5 Monday through Friday. Deaths occur at all hours of the day and night and someone needs to be available to respond to those deaths. Dr. Kennedy's refusal to respond either to the scene or to the morgue is nothing but him trying to make a political statement about why his office should not have had budget cuts. Did anyone do the math here? He is paid $63,255 a year at 15 hours per week = $81.10 an hour. In this county? They want to cut the budget they should start with his salary.

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21opddad(61 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

I can't believe the comments, concerning why Doc Kennedy should get a "free pass" on this issue. Doc Kennedy, basically "warned" the county officials and its citizens that this would happen when his operating budget was cut. They used to call this kind of thing "the blue flu." So, every city, county, or state department, that has had a cut in their budget, here's a hint..follow the "pioneer" or "maverick"..Doc Kennedy, and when your department screws up, say..I knew this was going to happen..it's that cut in our budget. Not a good precedent to be setting, but, worth a try.
And, as far as doing everyone a favor by "taking" the Coroner position..ok, but do the job with both a professional and common sense mindset.

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22walter_sobchak(1893 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

HE owes the public an apology for lacking basic human decency! Just because he warned me doesn't mean that I have to accept his callous behavior. I am real tired of listening to government workers complaining about cuts. We in the private sector have been doing more for less for quite some time. But, when the management of the county shares in the same benefit structure as the unionized workers, there is no adversarial relationship in the collective bargaining process. Thus, the taxpayer beands over, grabs their ankles, and takes it you know where. This is why the ordinary citizen is upset!

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23dott191(7 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

What about the fact the Red Cross cannot contact military family members until the CORONER IDs the bodies? What about not knowing if you can have an open casket, or just a memorial service... and the funeral home needs to know ASAP? What about thoughts going through your mind for 48 or 72 hours about what your loved ones look like?

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