Coroners attempt to limit access to

Safe guidelines for school chemical storage and security

Safe guildelines for school chemical storage and security

 Jan Murphy recently authored a report in The Patriot of Central PA that re-counted an effort by Pennsylvania Coroner Association to limit access to autopsy reports to cause and manner of death of the victim.

Proponents of the bill dismiss arguments that public health threats wouldn’t be disclosed.They say most coroners around the state bring issues of community concern to the public’s attention when they notice a trend, such as deaths related to the synthetic drug known as bath salts.” writes Jan Murphy.

However, at issue is the family who anguished for years due to the denial of information regarding the death of their loved one.

  • How did they die? 
  • What really caused a sudden, unattended death? 
  • Is the death from an illness that could be hereditary? 
  • Was the death really murder?

These questions and more haunt the family after a tragic death incident.

“Two men were found dead in their Hollidaysburg apartment in September 2009.

But it wasn’t until five months later, when the Blair County coroner released her annual report, that the public learned the causes of death were prescription-drug overdoses. That report by Coroner Patricia Ross helped sharpen the focus on a growing problem of prescription-drug abuse in that county.

Long delays in the release of information about community problems could become more commonplace, said Deb Musselman, the government affairs director for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.”

An editorial opinion in Post-Gazette, published March 29, 2012 under the title Threat of secrecy: Pennsylvania coroners’ records must stay public clearly defines the injustice sought by the Pennsylvania Coroner Association who, according to the opinion piece are arguing for the ability to keep public records from “inspection by the public and media”.

“Coroners do have discretion to release more information but, if they don’t want to, they no longer would have to.  Coroners are not elected to be grief counselors, though, and their (coroners) job is not to shield family members from potentially embarrassing or unsettling details when a loved one dies, especially by withholding important information from the public.

If the bill (House bill 2477) becomes law, it also would prevent Pennsylvanians from looking over their coroners’ shoulders to make sure they are properly conducting the public’s business.”

Fortunately, governor at the time, Governor Rendell, did not sign the bill and demonstrated that he “still believes in strong citizen access to public records”.

Another opinion, Ruling may return autopsy issue to Pa. Legislature, by Mark Scolford of the Associated Press argues that privacy is important in  the case of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt who was killed in a crash during a Daytona 500 race in 2001.  The press was scrambling for the photos of Earnhardt following the autopsy.  The family asked the records remain private due to concerns that only the gory photos would be published throughout the world as ‘news’. 

“Privacy issues related to autopsies arose nationally after the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt during the 2001 Daytona 500. There were questions about whether his safety equipment had been inadequate, and news organizations sought his autopsy photos.”

Earnhardt’s family requested Florida legislature rule on the case.

“Earnhardt’s widow fought the release, (of photos) and the Florida Legislature subsequently passed a law that precluded public inspection of autopsy photos.”

Understandably there are times when discretion must be used.  Earnhardt’s family could have asked a judge to rule on the issue and seal the record.  But this would and should not preclude the family from receiving the autopsy record.

We have written extensively in this blog and posted documents at supporting the self-serving actions of Montgomery County corner Walter Hofman who refuses to release results from additional testing he promised in August 2011 from the autopsy of Raymond Marc Zachry who suddenly collapsed and died in Souderton. Pennsylvania on September 25, 2007.  The family has spent multiple thousands of dollars on lawyers and experts, still Hofman refuses to cooperate or explain the redacted and altered toxicology reports that are posted at

A ruling allowing coroners and medical examiners to hide their work from public scrutiny there would be no recourse for the innocent who were wrongly convicted, the guilty that are allowed freedom to continue their criminal acts without discovery. It would seem encouragement of family input would be more relevent in death investigations.  Who knows the victim better than the parents, siblings and in some cases spouse?

Your opinion is welcome and encouraged in the comment section.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Keep up the great work and thank you for mentioning my blog. I have not had much computer time this week to get caught up with saying “Thank you”



    • I do appreciate your input into this cause. It is so important – many people have sent messages to me ans asked for help that I must keep the pressure on for the families that are hurting and can’t access information of their loved one cause and manner of death.

      Thank you for following and commenting on this sugject.



  2. What a brave fight you are fighting! I just watched the Ken Lang documentary, again, and I am mortified at the lack of action and justice! How dreadful for you!!! Hugs and warm wishes dear friend.



  3. I nominated your blog for Most Influential Blogs of 2012.If you want to accept, please visit this link
    Congrats !



    • Thank you so much Cristi. You certainly deserve this award since your blog is definately influential in my life. I always enjoy your blog posts.I will have it posted quickly.



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