In Wisconsin a coroner isn’t required to complete any training. It’s an elected position that some families allege can lead to inaccurate rulings in death investigations, but Assembly Bill 530 would change that.
The Wisconsin Coroner and Medical Examiner’s Association and several lawmakers have drafted the bill to require training for coroner’s and amateur medical examiners. Supporters argue it will not only modernize the profession, but ensure families avoid more heartbreak.
The group packed Room 225 at the Capitol Tuesday, but Tya Lichtie’s story stood out.
“Dad suffered a traumatic head injury and it wasn’t looking good,” she said. “We had so many questions regarding his death that went unanswered, yet we believed a death investigation was underway considering the violent, questionable nature of his death.”
After Robert Lichtie’s death, his family learned the Monroe County coroner didn’t perform an autopsy and OK’d his cremation, while the authorities refused to open a case.
The bill would require 40 hours of training during the first four-year cycle and 24-hours of continuing education each renewal cycle -- a proposal the Portage County coroner calls modest.
“Basically as coroner, all it takes is one more vote than the other guy,” Scot Rifleman said.
Forty-six Wisconsin counties have coroners. The rest of the state's counties appoint a medical examiner. Medical examiners, like Dr. Vincent Tranchida, Dane County's chief medical examiner, aren't necessarily doctors. Tranchida is one of eight forensic pathologists in the state.
“Without this minimum of requirements for training, investigations, documentation and accountability, we can’t ensure the baseline standard for efficiency and competence,” Tranchida said.
Tranchida found evidence of a homicide during Marjorie Sands' autopsy. The 91-year-old was found dead in her Beloit home in 2011. The former Rock County coroner originally ruled Sands' death an accident. After Tranchida reported his findings, the coroner amended her ruling to homicide, but the time lapse put authorities behind and the case has gone cold.
Tya Lichtie hopes lawmakers vote in favor of the bill to prevent more confusion at a time already difficult for families.
“Someone out there really knows what happened to Dad, and all we wanted was the answer and truth,” Lichtie said at Tuesday's hearing. “But because of all the failures, it appears we’ll never have this.”
The bill would also create a Medico-legal Investigation Examining Board to investigate complaints.
Wisconsin Counties Association officials said the office of coroner is a constitutional office and there’s no constitutional requirement that a person hold a license in medico legal investigation in order to hold the office of coroner.
WCA officials also said if the bill is approved it could open the possibility of the state imposing licensure requirements for other county offices such as treasurers, sheriffs and clerks.
A vote on the bill is expected soon.