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, but is autonomous and serves all the people of the county. The Coroner facility is located at 3336 Chanate Road in Santa Rosa, California and consists of one Detective Sergeant, four Deputy Detectives, two full-time and one extra help Forensic Assistants staff. and one student intern. Additionally, we have one member of the Sheriff's Volunteers in Policing 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 the status of open investigations.
The Detectives assigned to the unit receive and investigate new reports of deaths. They 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 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. Detectives often respond to suspicious deaths, wherein the manner is unclear.
The Forensic Assistants 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. Under the supervision of the Chief Deputy Coroner, Forensic Assistants assist the Forensic Pathologist with the performance of autopsies; maintain the autopsy room and facility in a clean and orderly condition; perform clerical and administrative support functions as required in the Coroner’s Office, including maintaining records of human remains in the temporary custody of the County Morgue; assist members of the public and other agencies; and perform related duties as required.
Pathology services are furnished by independent contractors who are all licensed Forensic Pathologists. Sonoma County averages approximately 400 autopsies annually.
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. He also currently serves in the California State Assembly as representative from the Second District.
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. 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.