Medical Examiner

The Medical Examiner's Office is required by Michigan Law (PA 181 of 1953 and PA 368 of 1978), to investigate sudden, unexpected, accidental, or violent deaths. The Medical Examiner has the authority to order an autopsy at any time it is deemed necessary to determine or confirm the cause and manner of death.

Who We Are

In Muskegon County, the Medical Examiner's Office is associated with the public health department. The office is directed by the Chief Medical Examiner, who is appointed by the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners for a 4-year term of office. The Chief Medical Examiner is a physician certified in forensic pathology, appointed by the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners, to investigate sudden unexpected, violent, suspicious, or unnatural deaths. 

The purpose of the Medical Examiner's Office is to bring trained medical evaluation to the investigation of deaths that are of concern to the public health, safety, and welfare of the community.

What We Do

Every state has laws that require official investigation of deaths involving certain types of circumstances. In general, these include deaths that are thought to result from injury or poisoning (such as homicide, suicide, and accidental deaths), and those deaths that are sudden, unexpected, and not readily explainable at the time of death. 

The main purpose of the Medical Examiner’s Office is to determine the cause and manner of death, and to clarify the circumstances surrounding death. Cause of death has to do with determining which disease or injury actually caused death. Manner of death is a classification in which attempts are made to determine whether death resulted from natural causes (such as disease or old age), homicide, suicide, or accidental injury or poisoning. 

Information collected during the investigation may also help clarify the circumstances, such as the sequence of events prior to death, or the collection evidence that may lead to the arrest of a suspect in a homicide case.

Advancement of Health & Science, Too

Although the major purpose of the Medical Examiner's Office is to conduct death investigations, the information obtained from individual death investigations may also be studied collectively to gather information that may be used to address public health and safety issues. 

An autopsy may show the presence of a disease that can run in families and allow for proper diagnosis and treatment in surviving family members. Thus, the Medical Examiner's Office not only performs specific death investigations, but contributes to the advancement of health and science, as well.

Reasons for Investigation

Accurate investigation and determination of cause and manner of death are essential to our society for the following reasons:

  • Criminal and civil court proceedings will be provided with documented, sound, and impartial medical evidence
  • Industrial hazards shall be exposed
  • The innocent shall be exonerated
  • Murder shall be recognized
  • Unrecognized hazards to public health shall be revealed

Sequence of Events

The typical sequence of events in a death is:

  1. A death is reported to the office.
  2. We assess whether we have legal authority and duty to investigate.
  3. The death scene is visited and investigated, if needed.
  4. Investigative information is obtained about the deceased's medical and social history, and other information surrounding the events that led to death.
  5. The body is transported to the morgue if examination is needed.
  6. If the deceased is unidentified, efforts are made to positively identify the deceased.
  7. A postmortem examination is performed (external examination or autopsy), if needed, at which time necessary specimens are obtained for laboratory tests and potential evidence is collected.
  8. The death certificate is completed.
  9. Permanent records are kept for future use as needed, such as testimony at trials involving criminal or civil matters, or the processing of insurance or worker's compensation claims and other matters.

Additional Tasks

During our investigations and examinations, it is not uncommon for us to:

  • Obtain copies of medical records and police reports
  • Obtain specimens of body fluids for toxicology and other testing
  • Obtain specimens of tissue for microscopic examination
  • Prepare photographs

Report A Death

Always call 911 immediately to report a death.