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View Full Version : Death Notification, Seattle area - details? (kinda grisly)



Captcha
06-26-2016, 11:21 PM
I've got a character who's died in a fire at a Seattle squat where people were shooting heroin. Multiple fatalities.

My POV character is the dead character's brother, and I need to figure out how he's notified of the death.

My dead character will have died from smoke inhalation rather than fire (he was out of it when the fire started, didn't escape even though the fire wasn't that bad), and his body will be unburned, so I'm assuming he could still have his ID in readable form. I'm thinking his cell phone will also still be functioning, and my POV character can call/text him after his death and the police/fire could pick up the call.

I know that the Medical Examiner's office is supposed to do most of the death notifications in King County, but apparently they'll call on the police in certain circumstances. I'm not entirely clear on what those circumstances would be.

I know that death notifications are supposed to be made in person, so I'm assuming that, if the authorities call back to the number shown on the dead character's call display, they'll arrange to meet the POV character somewhere?

Can anyone walk me through the rest of the details?

As it is now, my POV character is driving to work, gets a call from a mutual friend about the fire, with the possibility that the brother may have been in the building. My POV character sends a text to his brother, demanding an answer.

Would it be realistic for the authorities to call back from the dead character's phone (so I can get that little bit of hope into the story, followed by the drama of disappointment) or would they know better and just call the displayed number from one of their own phones?

Can anyone suggest the wording they would use, or what questions they would ask, or how they'd set up the rest of the notification process?

(If it matters, my POV character has a friend with him in the car, so he's not completely alone - the friend may be the one who sends the texts and answers the return call.)

Thanks for any help with this.

ETA: I've sent an e-mail to the King County medical examiner's office asking for their help as well, but I rarely get a response to the requests for help I send, so... I'm hoping for the best, expecting something else.

jclarkdawe
06-27-2016, 12:46 AM
Druggies in a fire, unless very, very dead, are going to be transported to the hospital and worked on the way. So many complications that an EMT or paramedic is going to be reluctant to call. We'll let someone with a bigger paycheck do it.

So here's a scenario that isn't supposed to happen, but does. Ever have a phone keep ringing, especially while you're working? And this sounds like what you're looking for, as opposed to doing it right.

Have the brother keep calling. Have one of the EMTs get annoyed at the phone constantly ringing. Have the EMT finally pick up and answer the phone before he throws it out of the ambulance. Push the conversation until the EMT has to blurt it out.

Not according to procedure, but it happens.

Jim Clark-Dawe

Captcha
06-27-2016, 12:54 AM
Druggies in a fire, unless very, very dead, are going to be transported to the hospital and worked on the way. So many complications that an EMT or paramedic is going to be reluctant to call. We'll let someone with a bigger paycheck do it.

So here's a scenario that isn't supposed to happen, but does. Ever have a phone keep ringing, especially while you're working? And this sounds like what you're looking for, as opposed to doing it right.

Have the brother keep calling. Have one of the EMTs get annoyed at the phone constantly ringing. Have the EMT finally pick up and answer the phone before he throws it out of the ambulance. Push the conversation until the EMT has to blurt it out.

Not according to procedure, but it happens.

Jim Clark-Dawe

I'd be okay with them doing it right, too... there's a significant time delay between the fire happening and the POV character finding out about it, so I don't think the EMT thing will work. (The fire happened the night before, the POV character finds out in the morning, so - five or six hours at least, I'd think).

Assuming the EMT didn't make the call, how would the brother be notified? The dead brother doesn't likely have any next-of-kin information in his wallet, his driver's license would have a different address... how do authorities track down next of kin for indigent people?

Possibly my character would be proactive and contact someone - police, I'd guess. So they might refer him to the ME, who would... ask him to come to a meeting somewhere? Or come to meet him at home? It feels like either way, the cat's kind of out of the bag as soon as the phrase "medical examiner" is used...

MDSchafer
06-27-2016, 05:50 AM
Assuming the EMT didn't make the call, how would the brother be notified? The dead brother doesn't likely have any next-of-kin information in his wallet, his driver's license would have a different address... how do authorities track down next of kin for indigent people?

So, as I understand it the hospital has to make a reasonable effort to notify the next of kin after a death. Typical the PD works with the hospital to go through past addresses listed in the DMV, they'll knock on doors and ask if anyone knew him and try to track down. They'll use other databases, finger prints, look for current and former employers who might have emergency contact info. Each state is different, but the laws probably all give a window for the authorities to track down family before they're buried in a pauper field or used for med students to learn anatomy.

Here's an old story I stumbled across out of Oregon that might be useful
http://www.oregonlive.com/special/index.ssf/2009/06/oregonians_act_as_next.html

jclarkdawe
06-27-2016, 06:22 AM
Basically in the time span you're talking about, the body would be transferred into the control of the medical examiner. A police officer (detective) would be assigned to the case. You run down the motor vehicle record and fingerprints. This might lead to other records, including military records (a lot of information). Motor vehicle record will give you the birth certificate information. That might give you education records. If you've got a name and birth date, usually you're going to find a lot more.

Meanwhile, you also check against missing persons reports. If you've got a possible missing person report that comes close to matching an unclaimed body, you start looking for points to help you match the two. But in this case, there is a driver's license, so that a missing person report will match on the list of unclaimed bodies. You don't even have to really wake up here for the detective.

The longer this goes on before the name and missing person report take to match, the less you worry about how notification is done. Here, if the computer system is any good, when he goes in to file the missing person report, the intake officer will check the unclaimed bodies list and immediately be able to tell the person what happened. The person filing the report will be asked for some more details, like tattoos, and then probably asked to go into a private room, where he'll be told.

Whether the brother will need to see the body is partly local policy, and partly whether there is a need. Many bodies can be identified by license picture and other descriptions. Druggies usually have arrest records so that body markings and fingerprints are available. If the brother wants to see the body, that can be arranged.

I doubt the actual medical examiner does much of the notification. I've met a couple who I would not want to notify anyone. But most of this is going to be dependent on who is called. The next day, you call the police, the police tell you. You call the hospital, they ask you to come down, and tell you. Most people don't call the medical examiner.

Jim Clark-Dawe

MaeZe
06-27-2016, 06:27 AM
Under the circumstances you are describing, the police knock on your door. I know this from experience. They try to notify you in person. If you are not home they leave a note (business card) with instructions to call.

I can't imagine any circumstances where they'd call someone from the deceased's phone.

A person that is obviously deceased in the field would never be taken to a hospital. Medics in King County can pronounce someone dead, but if it's obvious (like someone who's been dead a few days) the police would just call the ME.

Someone who still has a heartbeat would be rushed to the hospital. The body would go to the ME from there if s/he died on the way or in the ED. The police would still likely be the ones to notify the next of kin.

If the person lived long enough to be admitted, the hospital liaison would call the family.

MaryMumsy
06-27-2016, 06:51 AM
Is anyone else old enough to remember why they do notifications in person, and before identities are released to the press? It's because of Buddy Holly, JP Richardson, and Ritchie Valens. Holly's pregnant wife heard it on the TV and had a miscarriage the next day. His mother heard it on the radio and collapsed.

MM

ironmikezero
06-27-2016, 10:12 PM
Most LE agencies have written policies regarding death notifications, and typically there is a considerable range of inherent discretion left to the assigned investigator(s). Generally speaking, most such notifications are made in person; any other method (other than a strategic investigative tactic) would likely be a last ditch effort, only if all personal encounter attempts have not worked out (that fact would be suitably documented in the case file).

Siri Kirpal
06-27-2016, 11:27 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

This was back in the '70s, but my aunt was working at the post office at the time. Her son had just died in a car accident, and the police were trying to find next of kin. They had evidence that the guy was from the town in which his mother worked, so the called the post office hoping to find information...and talked to my aunt. True story.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

taraesque
06-28-2016, 03:10 AM
I would think another way to find out is if the brother ever bailed him out of jail on drug related charges.

I would leave the cell phone angle out...so many phones are locked, and so what if a person gets a bunch of called from "Bob." The EMTs are police or ME won't know that Bob is next of kin.