Barron County Medical Examiner's Office - Frequently Asked Questions


 Abbreviations Used

Medical Examiner = ME
Deputy Medical Examiner = DME    
Medical Examiner's Office = MEO
Emergency Medical Services = EMS

 Why is the Medical Examiner involved?

State law requires the county medical examiner to inquire into and determine the circumstances, manner, and cause of all sudden, violent, unexplained, or unusual deaths.

 What is the normal process of a death investigation?

In many cases when there is a death, at least two jurisdictions are involved.  The police or law enforcement agencies involved have jurisdiction over the crime scene and the associated physical evidence.  The ME/DME is responsible for the body of the deceased and any physical evidence in direct contact with the body.  With the exception of life-saving efforts that may be attempted by fire/EMS personnel, the body may not be touched or moved by anyone without the permission of the ME/DME.  Therefore, the ME/DME will typically respond to every death scene before the body is removed from the scene.  The ME/DME will examine the body and photo the scene prior to releasing the body to the funeral home.   At the funeral home, a more thorough exam, more photos, and biological samples will be obtained.  Pertinent details and a collection of information about the scene and circumstances of the death will then be formally documented.

 Where will my loved on be taken?

The decedent will be taken to the funeral home that has been chosen by the family, providing the family is known and can be reached within a reasonable amount of time.  If the family is not known/cannot be reached, the ME/DME will ask for the closest funeral home to respond to remove the body.

 What do I do now?

The first step you must take, if you are the legal next of kin, is to select a funeral home to handle the funeral arrangements.  Contact the funeral home during regular business hours to arrange a meeting time.  Our office does not select funeral homes nor does it make funeral arrangements.  A listing of area funeral homes is provided for your convenience:

Appleyards Home for Funerals
Rice Lake
Burnham-Ours Funeral Home
Rausch-Lundeen Funeral Home
Cameron, Dallas
Olson Funeral Home
Skinner Funeral Home
Cumberland, Shell Lake, Turtle Lake - 715-822-2345
Rice Lake - 715-234-3533

 Does Barron County have a crematory?

Yes.  Lake Area Crematory is located in Turtle Lake.  This crematory is available to all funeral homes.  Contact number is 715-986-2345.

 Thinking about a cremation?

No cremation can be carried out, by law, for at least 48 hours after the pronounced time of death.  All cremations require a signed cremation permit for the MEO before proceeding.

Once you have decided to have the decedent's body cremated, your funeral director will notify the BCMEO of your wishes.  The ME/DME will respond to the funeral home and perform an external examination of the body, if an examination has not already been performed by the office.  Cremation examinations are one of the many functions of the BCMEO and are performed on all cremations, whether or not the death falls under the jurisdiction of the MEO.  Following this examination, a required signed cremation permit will be issued to the funeral home, allowing them to proceed.  A fee for this service is charged to the funeral home.

 Will an autopsy be performed?

The ME/DME will decide if an autopsy is necessary to establish the cause and manner of death.  An autopsy may not be performed if the cause of death can be determined to be from "natural causes." 

If an autopsy is deemed necessary by the ME/DME, the body will be transported to either Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire for a clinical autopsy or Midwest Medical Examiner's Office in Ramsey, Minnesota for a forensic autopsy.  Arrangements will be made with the funeral home to transport the body to the autopsy facility and then back to the funeral home.

 How long does it take to get the results of the autopsy?

In many cases the cause of death is evident at the time of autopsy.  In other cases, the cause of death may require additional studies, and therefore, additional time.  Many of these studies require processing and analysis of specimens by consulting laboratories whose turn-around times are not controlled by this office.

All death investigations are different and determining the cause and manner of death may require a great number of steps, each requiring time to complete--the time needed to complete several of these steps are not under the control of this office.

 Will it be possible to donate organs or tissues?

Yes.  The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult things you will face.  But during this time, you can make a decision that offers your family members the opportunity to give a final gift to someone else in need.  This decision may also offer you and your family some comfort in knowing that another person's life was saved by this special gift.  You and your family may be contacted by a member of an organ or tissue agency.  At that time, you will be asked to consider a donation as a possible last act for your loved one.  Depending on your situation, you may be offered the option to consent to the donation of various organs, tissues, eyes or corneas.

Please be assured that:

  • Organ and tissue/eye donation is, in essence, a gift of life.  Each tissue is extremely valuable to the recipient.
  • The donation will not delay the funeral or memorial service and will still allow for open casket viewing if desired.
  • Your family will not incur additional medical costs because of donation.

Every year, families are offered the opportunity to give the gift of life through donation. We understand the decision to donate is a difficult and personal choice.  One in which often needs to be made at a time when the family is experiencing a traumatic loss.  We encourage you to discuss this topic with your family and loved ones.

 When will I be able to obtain a death certificate?

The death certificate is normally presented for completion to the medical examiner by the funeral director.  Following completion of the death certificate, it is returned to the funeral director who then files the completed death certificate to the Barron County Register of Deeds.  Once the completed death certificate has been filed, a certified copy of the death certificate will be available to the family.

Arrangements to obtain certified copies of the death certificate are handled for the family by the funeral director.

On occasion, an exact cause or manner of death is not immediately determined following an autopsy.  Special laboratory tests and other types of investigation might be required.  As a result, there are occasions when a completed or certified death certificate will not be available for weeks or longer.  In those situations, a pending death certificate will be filed and later replaced with an amended death certificate once the cause/manner of death have been established.

A pending death certificate, however, is a legal document that serves as proof that the named individual has been pronounced dead.  If any problems arise in the acceptance of this document as proof of death, please call the MEO for assistance.
The most frequent reason for delay in completing a death certificate is waiting for the results of the toxicology analysis.  Forensic toxicology is very different from the drug testing performed in hospitals.  Hospitals typically only perform screening tests of urine for general categories of drugs, e.g., opiates, and do not determine how much of each drug is present.  Forensic toxicology, on the other hand, analyzes multiple body fluids for a wide spectrum of specific drugs.  The toxicology laboratory will not only quantitate the drugs detected, but will confirm their presence by a second method.  This all takes time.  Toxicology analysis may only take 4-6 weeks if no drugs are present; however, up to 9 months may be necessary where numerous drugs are involved, where unusual drugs are involved, or if the person is decomposed.

As one might suspect, all death investigations are different, and determining the cause and manner of death may require a great number of steps, each requiring time to complete.  The time needed to complete some of these steps may not be under the control of the MEO.  We greatly appreciate the patience of families and friends in these matters as we try to provide only accurate and complete answers.

 Do you provide any sort of educational programs?

Yes!  Our office would be more than happy to make a presentation at your school, medical facility, or civic group.

 What is the typical sequence of events that follow a death?

  • The on-call ME/DME will be notified of the death either by law enforcement,  EMS, nursing/medical staff, or by ER personnel.
  • The on-call ME/DME will determine whether it has the legal authority and statutory responsibility to assume jurisdiction over the death.  The ME/DME will make this determination after assessing the circumstances surrounding the death.
  • The death scene is visited and investigated.
  • Information is collected regarding the circumstances surrounding the death, as well as, the deceased's medical and social history.  Collecting the necessary information may include, but not limited to, interviewing witnesses, family, friends, etc., speaking  with personal physicians/other medical staff, reviewing medical records, and conferring with law enforcement.
  • The body is removed to the funeral home where a more thorough exam of the body is done.  Biological samples may be taken at this time or an autopsy arranged.  Organ/tissue donation may be arranged at this time.
  • Following examination and after ALL information has been collected and decisions on cause of death have been made, an official report of findings is prepared.
  • A cremation permit may be completed at this time.
  • The death certificate is completed or a pending death certificate is prepared if more time is required to complete further testing necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.
  • Permanent records are kept for all cases investigated and examined.  This information can therefore be accessed in the future for use in criminal and civil trials, for use in the processing of insurance or worker's compensation claims, for statistical analysis, and other matters.