Ada Coroner Upset Highlights Need For State Medical Examiner

Ex-sheriff’s deputy Mike Chilton won a three way vote for the post of Ada County Coroner in the Tuesday primary.

He defeated a former restaurateur who campaigned with signs showing dripping blood, and the current deputy coroner, Robert Karinen.

There are mixed takes on how the Ada Coroner office has evolved under Erwin Sonnenberg, who will retire in January. Karinen had been groomed as the successor. By all accounts he is well qualified–but apparently not as a politician.

For better or worse, Sonnenberg had created an empire. The office had 17 staffers and Sonnenberg sought a new facility during the last budget conference. The commishes denied the request.

Ada county provides autopsy services–for a fee–to about half the counties in the state. To our knowledge no other county agency has such a wide “business” reach. While cooperation among counties is laudable, we question the wisdom of one elected county official selling services to another county.

Some argue it reduces costs for Ada taxpayers, but we feel a better solution would be a statewide MEDICAL EXAMINER system. In these days of highly scientific exams, expensive technical devices, and–no joke–cooler space, a state system makes sense.

There are no medical qualifications for the office of coroner and that leaves it open to restaurant managers, former coppers, or anyone else who seeks public office.

An interesting side note about the office. The coroner is the only person who can arrest a sheriff. It does happen when investigations reveal crooked sheriffs who are formally arrested by the coroner.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. I may wrong but the ME isn’t paid market rate by Ada Co. The out of county work supplements his income on a private basis. I agree though that a statewide program is needed.

    EDITOR NOTE: For clarification, TF boy is referring to the forensic pathologists. We were told the out of county work is actually done as part of the Ada budget. It may supplement the office, but not the doctor directly.

  2. It’s an expensive business to do an autopsy properly and requires a good deal of expertise which is often not available nor plausible in a small budget county. Some counties in Idaho have such poor coroner services that murders could be mistaken for accidental death or suicide. Like you said, NO qualifications required for the job.

  3. I believe that Bannock County does the examinations for the eastern half of the state. Not sure who does the north. The ones in the north could be done in Spokane.

    I believe the actual coroner is not the same as the medical examiner, which if not mistaken is the forensic pathologist and how many of those are there in the state? How many actually conduct autopsies?

    EDITOR NOTE–We are told Ada has “one and a half” forensic pathologists and they are the only ones in the state. Small counties can’t afford these professionals, hence our suggestion to have a statewide system of trained medical examiners with coroners still elected to do the legal notification and other duties.

  4. I am confused… there are “no medical qualifications for the office of coroner” yet “his” findings IE suicide vs foul play” can be used in a court? I am really concerned by the fact that more than one elected official in ada county is “selling” the services of “his” office. As the editor stated empires are created by elected/appointed officials in the city, county, and state.

  5. The court can appoint an elisor to arrest the sheriff as well. This is an option in case the sheriff and coroner are in cahoots.

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