Republican: El Paso County, CO
LEON KELLY, M.D
Campaign Website URL: www.DrKellyForCoroner.com
Email Address: LeonKelly@mac.com
Occupation/Vocation: Forensic Pathologist
Resident of the El Paso County: 19 years
What experience (personal, professional, other) would you bring to your role as Coroner that will benefit our county?
I am a fully licensed physician, board-certified in anatomic, clinical, and forensic pathology whose medical specialty is figuring how and why people die. I have performed nearly 5000 autopsies, supervised thousands of death investigations, testified in hundreds of criminal trials and have served as a medical examiner in this community for 14 years. As El Paso County Coroner, Chief Medical Examiner, and Medical Director of our forensic toxicology laboratory, I lead the busiest coroner’s office in the state, serving nearly 1/3 of Colorado counties, overseeing a team of death investigators, medical examiners, and toxicologists who are at the forefront of investigating the worst tragedies occurring in our community in hopes of preventing similar deaths in the future.
The role of coroner is a challenging one. We serve our citizens and their families during the most tragic days of their lives. And in truth, there are no “good days” at the coroner’s office. But the information we gain though skillful and thorough death investigation provides our families, law enforcement, district attorney, health-care providers, public health department, elected officials, media, and citizens with the information necessary to improve the collective well-being and safety of our community. As El Paso County Coroner, my vision is to identify what has gone wrong, so we are best equipped to prevent those same tragedies from occurring in the days ahead through transparency and community-wide collaboration.
What are the biggest challenges for the El Paso County Coroner and the Coroner’s office, and how do you plan to address them moving forward?
The last decade has seen a startling increase in the “diseases of despair” that include chronic alcohol abuse, drug deaths, and suicide. This community experienced our own wave of youth suicides in recent past. And this was before a global pandemic disrupted our lives and support systems. As deaths of nearly every category have increased and the pipeline of physicians and investigators with the necessary specialty training fail to meet demand, adequate staffing is our most immediate challenge. Our office has overcome these challenges in the past by recruiting mission-driven individuals that desire to be at the forefront of our efforts to save lives through prevention as we’ve done with our recent teen suicide prevention success.
Determining Cause of Death
How do you medically determine whether a disease or other condition is a cause of death, an unrelated factor present at death, or something in between?
The statutory responsibility of the coroner is to determine cause and manner of death. This is done through a combination of autopsy and laboratory studies, death scene investigation, and a review of the decedent’s medical, social, and psychiatric history. In some cases, the cause of death may be clear, while in others it may require expert levels of forensic and medical training to decipher. The cause of death may have many factors, both natural and/or injurious. The “but-for principle” determines what injuries or diseases caused death…. meaning that but-for these events, diseases, or injuries, the individual would not have died at this time and place, thus identifying the specific cause or contributors to death.
How do you communicate with family members when you have to notify them of the death of a loved one?
Notifying families of the death of a loved-one is the most emotionally difficult but meaningful responsibility of the coroner. Once identified, our death investigators work with law enforcement to locate next-of-kin. Attempts will be made to notify them in-person as soon as possible but in the age of social media and families spread across the country this often proves challenging. With active-duty military members we work with mortuary affairs to perform notifications. After autopsy, our medical examiners, including myself, speak with families to relay the findings and cause of death. Our staff is available 24-hours a day to assist families in the care of their loved ones after death.
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