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Committee begins hearings on coroner reform legislation

| May 17, 2017

COLUMBUS – An Ohio House committee is working on a proposal to improve Ohio’s death certificate laws by increasing oversight and transparency.

The legislation, House Bill 146, sponsored by Rep. Larry Householder, was spurred by an incident in which the Franklin County coroner changed the cause of death on the death certificate of a woman who died after the car she was driving was struck by another vehicle. The change blindsided the victim’s family and prosecutors, and led to a felony charge against the other driver being dropped.

Householder, R-Glenford, told the House State and Local Government Committee that the coroner’s pathologist originally determined that the victim died of blunt-force trauma and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien charged the driver with felony vehicular manslaughter. But earlier this year, in the middle of court proceedings against the driver, the victim’s family received a new death certificate in the mail stating the victim had died from melanoma, a type of cancer.

Neither the family nor the prosecutor was given an explanation for the change in the death certificate. County Prosecutor O’Brien was forced to drop the felony vehicular manslaughter charge and the driver walked away with only a misdemeanor conviction for driving under the influence.

Householder’s bill would require coroners to get approval from a common pleas court judge in order to change a death certificate. He said the bill isn’t about tying the hands of county coroners – it’s about oversight and transparency.

“Crime victims and their loved ones deserve justice and those who commit crimes must be held accountable,” Householder said. “We need to make sure our coroners, prosecutors and law enforcement are on the same page.”

Householder also noted that death certificate changes can impact not only criminal proceedings but a range of other issues, including insurance claims filed by a surviving spouse or next of kin.

 

 

 

 

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