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Coroner moves to larger space

County had 228 reported deaths in 2023

Mason County Coroner Jaime Taylor is getting comfortable in her new Shelton office at 126 Kneeland St.

Taylor and her staff moved the last week of November.

When Taylor started as coroner, she worked below the family court building in an area "basically just a cooling space," she told the Journal.

"We love our new office," Taylor told Mason County commissioners at a recent meeting.

After the move, Taylor hosted an open house for the commissioners and other officials, including former coroner Wes Stockwell.

"I felt so bad because we moved that poor man everywhere and now the facilities are getting nicer and nicer for the coroner," Commissioner Randy Neatherlin said.

Commissioners appointed Taylor in February 2022 after Stockwell resigned from the position. Taylor won the November 2022 election, running unopposed.

A large part of coroner duties involve administrative work, so Taylor is

happy with the extra room, she said. The new office has a seating area to meet with families, desk space for investigators and a large back area that holds a cooler and other equipment.

In Washington, the county coroner's office is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death.

The coroner typically investigates homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, deaths of unidentified individuals, and violent, sudden or unusual deaths, according to the Washington Legislature.

Taylor said not all deaths require an autopsy, but if they do, it's performed by medical professionals in Thurston County.

"We can determine a natural death," she said.

Taylor is well-qualified to make that call, with 15 years' experience as a death investigator. She's also certified by the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators.

An inquiry starts when Taylor or her staff receive a call from MACECOM dispatch. They go to the scene, which can be an ordeal depending on the terrain.

Taylor told the Journal she's gone "everywhere" to pick up bodies and has hiked through dense woods and waded through water. She always keeps weather-appropriate clothing on hand, she said.

The coroner will examine the decedent, talk to witnesses and photograph everything before loading the body and bringing it back to the office.

Taylor said the police and the fire department are good about helping lift the body onto a stretcher and into the coroner vehicle. When first responders are busy at the scene, Taylor and her staff have to do it themselves.

"It's hard," she said, especially if the decedent is obese.

She can use lifts back at the office to get the body unloaded and onto a rack in the cooler.

Right now, there's rack space for three bodies. Commissioners just approved Taylor's funding request for more racks to accommodate 11 total decedents and a new cooler space in Belfair, so bodies in North Mason County won't have to be transported to Shelton. Officials are still determining the location of the Belfair cooler.

Once the body is in the cooler, the investigation continues, and Taylor may obtain the decedent's medical records or run toxicology tests.

Taylor proudly showed off a new toxicology screening machine, manufactured by Randox, that provides results in about an hour.

The machine analyzes a blood sample and displays any presence of fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine and numerous other substances.

There's only one forensics toxicology lab in the state she said, and the backup is 13 weeks. Before the

county bought the machine, Taylor would have to list the death as "pending" until toxicology results came back.

"Now families don't have to wait. We can get answers right away," she said.

Taylor's least-favorite part of her job is death notifications.

"It's the worst thing to have to let a parent know their kid has been killed. It makes my stomach hurt," she said.

Taylor's office recently released last year's death statistics. The coroner had 228 reported deaths.

"Our office performed 104 autopsies. We had 65 accidental deaths, 17 motor vehicle fatalities, one drowning, four falls and two other. We had 40 drug-related deaths, 26 of which included fentanyl. Twelve were methamphetamine, and two were prescription drugs. Five homicides, 13 suicides, four undetermined, 116 natural," according to the release.

"We have a lot of calls for drug overdoses," Taylor said.

She's made drug education one of her priorities and gives school presentations about the dangers of drugs.

Taylor said kids have approached her afterward to say that one or both of their parents were using fentanyl, and they were worried their parents might die.

"These kids want to talk about it," she said.

Author Bio

June Williams, Reporter

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald

 

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