The bill was inspired by the death of Jacob Limberios, 19, who died on March 2, 2012, of a gunshot wound. House Bill 482, informally known as “Jake’s Law,” was introduced Tuesday. It requires that when a death appears to be a suicide, the coroner or deputy coroner must go to the scene to take charge of the body.
It mandates carrying out an autopsy when the person’s manner of death appears to have been by suicide, unless the coroner is informed that an autopsy would have violated the dead person’s religious beliefs.
Finally, it requires each county coroner in Ohio to complete at least one hour of training in conducting suicide investigations.
Sandusky County coroner John Wukie initially refused to order an autopsy after Limberios died, and he ruled the death an accidental suicide — without going to the home where he died or interviewing witnesses.
“The crux of this bill is Jake Limberios’ death and manner of death,” Redfern said Wednesday. “The Sandusky County coroner never attended to the scene, never attended to the body. This legislation, if enacted, would make that a requirement” According to a research memorandum prepared for Redfern by Tom Wert, an Ohio Legislative Service Commission budget analyst, Ohio had about 1,386 suicides from 2007 to 2011. An average of 900 suicide autopsies were carried out during that time.
An autopsy costs about $2,000, so the bill would increase costs for local governments. That will make the bill more difficult to pass, Redfern said.
As a former Ottawa County commissioner, Redfern said he is sensitive about imposing increased costs on local governments, but he believes it is important to the families of apparent suicide victims to mandate immediate autopsies in all cases.
“As we’ve all come to know, a county coroner can issue a cause of death, and it’s very difficult to get that cause of death changed” Redfern said.
An autopsy makes it easier for a family to accept a ruling, Redfern said. In Limberios’ case, an autopsy was not done right away, as it normally would be, he said.
The Limberios family obtained a private autopsy six months after his death, after questions persisted about how he died. Fourteen months after the death, the county exhumed the body and carried out its own belated autopsy.
Wert’s memo to Redfern says eight counties have coroners or medical examiners who are certified pathologists: Clark,Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, Montgomery, Summit, Trumbull and Warren counties. Coroners in the other 80 counties are not pathologists, the memo says.
“While most county coroners are incredibly dedicated and committed, it appears that additional training in suicide investigations is needed” Redfern said.
Redfern’s bill has 30 co-sponsors. It’s been assigned to the Health and Aging Committee. The chairman of the committee is state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon.