Conversation sparked among Kentucky coroners over new proposed law

Push for Nathan's Law sparks conversation among coroners
Published: Feb. 25, 2022 at 7:16 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) -Recently WKYT’s Amber Philpott reported on Kentucky Senate bill 66, better known as Nathan’s Law when it was recently introduced before lawmakers in Frankfort.

The proposed legislation calls for grief training for the state’s coroners and came about after a Lexington mother says the way in which she was notified about her son’s death last year was not handled compassionately.

After our story aired it opened a conversation among other coroners in the state.

WKYT sat down with two coroners who serve on the Kentucky Coroners Association board to talk about death notifications and the training already on the books.

It is not a job everyone seeks out, but Farris Marcum and Jimmy Cornelison have decades of experience between them as coroners in their respective counties.

Marcum serves Lincoln Co and Cornelison Madison Co., and both serve on the Kentucky Coroners Association board.

They know in their job, many times they are delivering the worst news someone will ever receive.

“My job is to help the families of our community and get them to understand that what just happened, we are here for you, to help you and support you,” said Farris Marcum, Lincoln Co. coroner.

Cornelison says how a death notification is made is often times subject to each individual coroner, there is not a standard process.

“I couldn’t tell you what another coroner does on death notifications, I know what I have always done, and I know what I have taught others to do. You just never know on death notifications what the outcome is going to be,” said Jimmy Cornelison, Madison Co. coroner.

Both Cornelison and Marcum reached out after our story aired about Nathan’s Law, new legislation proposed in Frankfort that calls for grief training for the state’s coroners.

The legislation came about after Lexington mother Stacey Burnett’s 18-year-old son Nathan was killed in Utah last spring in a snowboarding accident.

She says a scrawled-out note was all she was given from a Fayette Co. deputy coroner with not a lot of other details.

She told us the manner in which she was notified was cold and is now calling for grief training for those making these types of notifications.

“I’ve read studies, but I just know from experience how you find out about such a traumatic event kind of shapes your healing process,” said Stacy Burnett.

Both Marcum and Cornelison don’t disagree with the call for additional training.

“I’m for Nathan’s Law, I’m not opposed to it I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful law. I think anytime we as coroner’s can further our education and make ourselves better, we are doing better for the people we serve,” said Marcum.

“Well I definitely don’t oppose it if there was a problem, is a problem then we need to correct it,” said Cornelison.

What the two coroners do disagree with is that there is no training already on the books.

“Well we are mandated by statute to have training and we have several different trainings throughout the year,” said Marcum.

They say as part of their mandated training and free continuing education, all coroners are trained on best practices and that includes how a death notification is given and the manner in which it should be handled.

Does that mean additional training would not hurt?

Marcum says he welcomes it.

As President of the Kentucky Coroners Association he recently spoke to some new deputy coroners and there is one thing he says he stresses.

“I told them the hardest thing they will ever do in their career is do a death notification and I told them there is no text book, you can’t Google it, it has to come from your heart,” said Marcum.

For Marcum he says he knows many of his fellow coroners and deputies are using compassion when making these notifications, moving forward, no matter if Nathan’s Law is passed he says there is certainly always room for more discussion on this sensitive topic.

“I think moving forward I think this will be a topic of discussion I think it maybe something may be heightened a little bit and may be expanded upon so I think this is something we probably need to take a look at a little bit closer,” said Marcum.

Both Marcum and Cornelison tell me they always try and have as much information for families as they can and be available for the questions they may have.

In talking with these coroners and Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn, they all agree no matter the training it is up to them individually to make sure that a death notification is handled respectfully, compassionately and to instill that in their deputies.

Senate Bill 66 has been voted out of the Kentucky Senate and now sits in the House.

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