It is the mission of the Coroner Unit to provide competent and timely law enforcement and scientific investigations of all deaths occurring within the County of Sonoma that meet criteria as defined in 27491 of the California Government Code and to provide timely and accurate answers to survivors with regard to the deaths of their loved ones.
The Coroner Unit is a component of Sheriff's Investigations. The Coroner facility is located at 3336 Chanate Road in Santa Rosa, California and consists of one Detective Sergeant, four Deputy Detectives, one Community Services Officer, one Secretary and two Forensic Assistants staff. Additionally, five student interns and one member of the Sheriff's Volunteers in Policing unit serve the unit.
The Detective Sergeant oversees day-to-day supervision of the unit and responds in a supervisory capacity to homicide and other high profile death scenes or any scene that is considered unusual or suspicious. Other duties of the sergeant include liaison with Forensic Pathologists, attendance and participation in the Sonoma County Child Death Review Team, the Sonoma County Domestic Violence Death Review Team and the California State Coroner's Association. The sergeant reviews and approves death investigations generated by the staff within the unit and is responsible for signing final death certificates generated from coroner investigations.
The Detectives assigned to the unit receive and investigate new reports of deaths. The screen the new reports to determine if the death falls within the criteria of 27491 of the California Government Code for deaths reportable to the coroner. Detectives respond to the scenes of death scenes in which the manner of death is being investigated as either homicide, suicide, accident, and in a significant number of natural causes deaths. It is the duty of the coroner pursuant to 27491 of the California Government Code to investigate these types of deaths.
The Community Services Officer assigned to the unit assists Detectives in performing routine follow up, locating and retrieving medical records, medical samples and x-ray images as needed. Additionally the person assigned to this position receives new reports of death from hospitals and mortuaries in Sonoma County and screens these deaths for acceptance for further investigation by the Coroner Unit.
Pathology services are furnished by Forensic Medical Group Incorporated. Their corporate office is located in Fairfield California. Forensic Medical Group has five Forensic Pathologists available to the Coroner Unit. Forensic Medical Group provides services to several nearby counties some of whom include Marin, Lake, Solano, Contra Costa, Yolo and Sacramento.
As Sonoma County averages nearly 500 autopsies annually there is one Forensic Pathologist assigned full time to serve the needs of Sonoma County.
Forensic Odontology is best described as post-mortem dental examination and comparison. The Coroner Unit's Forensic Odontology services are provided on an as needed basis by Dr. James Wood DDS. His services typically would be called in for use in identifying burn victims or unidentified human remains. Dr. Wood also specializes in bite mark comparisons from all sources. Dr. Wood was also called into service to travel to New York following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Other Vendor Services:
In addition to contracting for pathology services with Forensic Medical Group, the County of Sonoma contracts with several other vendors to provide needed services to serve the Coroner Unit. Some of these vendors provide services for in house x-rays for homicide victims, laboratory services for toxicology, laboratory services for micro-biology, bio-hazard waste disposal, pharmaceutical waste disposal, and body removals.
Other Services provided by the Coroner Unit:
The Coroner Unit of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office provides various services to allied agencies. Homicide and suspicious death autopsies for Lake, Mendocino and Humboldt Counties are conducted on a fee basis at the Sonoma County Coroner's facility. They are scheduled so as not to interrupt the level of service to the citizens of Sonoma County. Staff at the Coroner Unit performs death notifications throughout the county when requested by outside agencies. On occasion in the past these notifications have taken on an international theme as some requests have been received from various embassies or the State Department for deaths of United States citizens or persons who have relatives in the United States that have occurred outside the United States boundaries.