With no additional context provided, an “Evening with the Coroner” might not sound like an especially enticing option.
But if the coroner happens to be Park County Coroner, David Kintz Jr., and he is sharing insightful, educational information about a range of compelling topics related to his unique occupation, then that’s altogether a different story.
Appearing via a May 29 teleconference, Kintz invited the public to attend a multifaceted discussion about topics such as the surprisingly broad scope of a coroner’s job, the use of forensics to identify deceased victims and to help solve crimes, COVID-19 facts pertaining specifically to Park County, Volunteer Care Teams that notify and assist the families and loved ones of the recently deceased, being an organ donor, preparing a will, autopsies, death certificates and much more.
One of the primary aspects of any coroner’s job is to utilize scientific procedures to investigate the identity of the deceased, as well as the cause and manner of death. But Kintz says he also considers it his responsibility to act as an advocate for the deceased, and to provide answers that help bring closure for family and loved ones.
“Our job at the Park County Coroner’s Office is to determine the cause and manner of an individual’s death,” Kintz said. “Any time someone in Park County dies outside of a facility, it is up to the coroner’s office to investigate.”
On the average, the Park County Coroner’s Office investigates about 80 deaths per year. In some cases, those investigative processes can become complex and time consuming. One such case, which has been extensively covered on these pages in recent weeks, was the case of John Aden.
John Aden is believed to have been murdered in 2014. His remains were discovered and his body was identified after an extensive investigation conducted by Kintz and his staff, in collaboration with other investigative entities.
In 2016, a positive identification was procured through the use of a forensic artist’s 3-D sculpture that was skilfully constructed to resemble what the victim might have looked like prior to his death. A photo of the sculpture was released to the public, and the release of that photo led to nearly 40 tips.
One such tip led to the recent arrest of John Aden’s brother, James Kevin Aden, a resident of Iowa. James Kevin Aden will be officially charged with his brother’s murder June 15 in the 11th Judicial District Court in Fairplay.
Kintz said he was limited as to how much information he could share regarding Aden case, but he did give a sweeping description of the techniques used by his office to identify deceased victims – especially those where very little evidence is available with which to work. He described how Anthropology, Odontology, DNA evidence and forensic reconstruction can all be vital in determining the identity of an unidentified deceased individual.
“Virtually everyone has people who love and care about them, and we exhaust all possibilities and expend all available resources to identify the deceased and to help bring closure to the people who knew and cared about them,” Kintz said. “That is a top priority for us.”
Kintz also described steps his department has taken to prepare for major emergencies, and how a number of governmental entities, first responders and medical professionals locally and regionally have participated in mass casualty preparedness activities.
Kintz described a mock bus rollover was recently staged as realistically as possible, whereby all participating entities rehearsed their roles and responsibilities in caring for the wounded and the deceased.
“In the case of the deceased, we first attempt to identify them, but then we begin contacting interested parties,” Kintz said. “If immediate family cannot be located, then we attempt to find next of kin. We recommend that everyone keep that type of information on their cell phones, or something on their person with emergency contact information.”
Kintz also discussed the unenviable task of contacting loved ones to notify them of a death.
“We deal with families and family members on their very worst days,” Kintz said. “We have a Care Team, and those people are specifically trained in how to notify and support those who have lost loved ones. It is their job to prepare for the many ways that people respond to death, and to be there for support.”
Kintz also provided common sense advice regarding preparedness for our own mortality, and explained that a number of potential problems can be avoided if people take the time to write down or verbally convey their wishes in the event of their own death.
“It relieves a lot of stress on family members if someone communicates their wishes in writing, has a will, describes what they would prefer in terms of remembrances and memorials and provides details pertaining to life insurance they might have,” Kintz said. “It’s not necessarily a fun conversation, but it is necessary.”
Oftentimes, Kintz said, funeral arrangements are made by next of kin or others whom the deceased would not have selected for that task if his or her wishes had been clearly communicated while still living.
“These things should be in writing,” Kintz said.
Kintz closed the teleconference by inviting additional inquiries and questions, and reminded viewers that he and his staff are always available to provide Park County residents with information or assistance when needed.