February 26, 2011 –
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When a loved one passes away unexpectedly and alone, family members may be forced to wait before the body is released to a funeral home. West Virginia law states certain deaths must be reported to medical examiners before they can be released for services.
Law enforcement officials refer to the deaths as “unattended deaths,” and certain activities must be concluded before the family can begin funeral services.
The code states when any person dies from “violence, or by apparent suicide, or suddenly when in apparent good health, or when unattended by a physician, or when an inmate of a public institution, or from some disease which might constitute a threat to public health, or in any suspicious, unusual or unnatural manner,” the chief medical examiner, county medical examiner or county coroner must be notified by a physician in attendance or by law enforcement if a physician is not present, or by the funeral director or any other person present.
“We secure everything and get in touch with the county coroner,” Randolph County Sheriff Jack Roy said. “They direct us to what they need us to.”
Roy said anytime there is an unattended death, the police will photograph the scene and prepare for an investigation in case it is needed. Roy said many different circumstances can be considered an unattended death.
“If the person lives alone or has not been seen in a while,” he said. “There is no set amount of time, it just depends on the circumstances.”
Roy said if two people are in a home and they are separated for a long period of time, it can be considered an unattended death.
Roy said the body cannot be released until the county coroner makes a determination.
Randolph County Coroner Scott Shomo said each case is different and if an autopsy is needed it can take “a while” before the body is released.
“If it is a true natural death, it can be released,” he said. “If it’s an elderly person, the medical examiner’s office doesn’t even get involved and the body will be released to a funeral home. All unexplained children’s deaths are sent to the medical examiner.”