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For the week of August 6 - 12, 2003

News

Blaine County coroner files unfinished death certificates


"We have received all of the death certificates, which means that the fines have stopped accruing. But we are proceeding to collect the fines."

ó BILL WALKER, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

All of the unfinished death certificates cited in an Idaho lawsuit against Blaine County Coroner Russell Mikel were completed last month, but the state is continuing to pursue fines associated with the tardy completion of the documents.

The state of Idaho filed a lawsuit in 5th District Court in Hailey in late June against the six-term coroner. The lawsuit sought $7,880 in fines imposed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in the absence of completed death certificates, which date as far back as Aug. 16, 2001.

The lawsuit also contained an order that would find Mikel in contempt of court if he failed to complete the absent documents.

"We have received all of the death certificates, which means that the fines have stopped accruing," said Bill Walker, spokesman for the Department of Health and Welfare. "But we are proceeding to collect the fines."

For each day Mikel failed to complete the certificates beyond May 30, the date the $7,880 in fines was established, fines mounted by as much as $175 per day until the certificates were completed. In letters sent to the Blaine County Prosecutorís Office this week, the department clarified that the state is now seeking $13,575 in fines.

According to Idaho Code, death certificates must be filed with the state registrar of vital statistics, a branch of the Department of Health and Welfare, within five days after the occurrence of a death. However, when investigation is required, medical certifications of the cause of death may be delayed for up to 15 days.

Other than filing of the lawsuit, the court has not taken any action.

Mikel clarified in June that he had submitted signed death certificates to Health and Welfare but had not specified the manner of the deaths. Instead, he had checked boxes on death certificates labeled "pending investigation."

Some routine examinations can take six to eight weeks, and the results of one autopsy took seven months to come back, Mikel said. Further, he said, the cases he was pressed to decide were not routine.

In the absence of completed death certificates families are unable to collect death benefits.

 

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