Father says son’s death investigation was mishandled, urges House to require increased training for coroners

A father who says his son’s death was mishandled by a local coroner is leading the push in the House to require more training for coroners.

Jay Minor, seated next to his fiancée Debby Ferguson, talks to a House committee about the death of his son and his belief that coroners in Missouri should be required to undergo additional training. Representative Dan Houx (standing) looks on. (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

Jayke Minor’s death in 2011 was initially ruled to have been the result of a drug overdose and no autopsy was conducted.  Toxicology results later showed only marijuana in his system.

“I lost my son eight and a half years ago.  There was a terrible job done on his death records to the point that I’ll never have the answers of what happened to him,” said Jay Minor, Jayke’s father.  “As tragic as it’s been it led us to this point, to coming here to support this bill, because the only way that change is going to be made is to get this bill passed, and we’re dedicated to doing that.”

House Bill 1435 would require additional training for coroners.  Sponsor Dan Houx (R-Warrensburg) said coroners can have any type of background, but might not have the training they need to do the job.

“Especially in rural Missouri where we don’t have medical examiners, and once again it could be any walks of life who don’t have the true training of how somebody passed away,” said Houx.  “A lot of time right now with our epidemic that we have with opioids that they just say, well there’s an empty pill bottle and they possibly died from opioids when truly they maybe had a heart attack or some disease that could be traced back to family, and help families out down the line.”

Minor said when the toxicology report did not back up the finding of a drug overdose in his son’s death, the Howard County coroner changed his findings.

“These coroners don’t do exams, they don’t do autopsies, they just guess at what happened, and when the facts come back and they’re wrong they just change it to whatever they want,” said Minor.  “My son’s coroner’s report had someone else’s name on it and it was scratched out with a pencil and his name was written in.”

Jayke Minor died in 2011 and his family still doesn’t know the cause of his death.

Minor said he has heard of two cases in other counties in which deaths were mishandled and families were left without answers.

“They have had very similar problems.  Paperwork’s not correct, no autopsy, wrong cause of death, paperwork changed afterward, so those are people that we’re trying to help and we have dedicated to helping people and to getting this bill passed,” said Minor.

Minor said growing up in rural Missouri he always assumed that county coroners had adequate training and knew what they were doing.

“Until this happened to me I had no idea.  We all put our trust in elected officials,” said Minor.  “I have to say there are some very good coroners out there because some of them have been helping us.  When the good coroners see the problem and they know that other professionals in their field have lacked and caused these problems, this says a lot, but they’re the very ones that are going to help us get this pushed through and make a change.”

This is the third year Houx has carried this legislation and the third year that Minor has gone before the legislature, media, and others, and shared what is a very painful story for him.  Last year the legislation was vetoed by Governor Mike Parson (R) because of an amendment that had been added to it, to which he objected.  Houx is optimistic that without that amendment, it will become law this year.

Minor is hopeful this will be the last year he has to push for the legislation.

“I have to be honest, it’s been very hard to do.  You pour your heart and soul out in front of these people.  The reaction that you get from the people that support you, whether it’s in these hearing rooms or on social media or family and friends, it’s overwhelming and that’s what gets you through it,” said Minor.  “It is quite an honor to do this in my son’s name.  This is for everybody in Missouri.  This could happen to you tomorrow or you the next day, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent.”

The House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on HB 1435 and could vote on it at any time.

House moves to lift hospice care death investigation requirement; change aimed at comforting families

Legislation in the Missouri House would lift the requirement, under certain circumstances, that the death of a person under hospice care be investigated.

Representative Bill Kidd (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Backers of House Bill 242 and an amendment added to House Bill 447 say that Missouri law requiring coroners and medical examiners to investigate a death in a home doesn’t account for the increase in the use of hospice care for terminal patients.

“The coroner does not have to come out and see that person who we all know is dead from cancer or a well-documented terminal illness,” said the proposal’s sponsor, Cameron Republican Jim Neely.

The legislation would allow the physician treating a patient or the hospice director to certify when a patient has died due to natural causes relating to a disease or known illness.  A coroner or medical examiner must be notified within 24 hours of such a death.

The legislation is personal for at least a couple of representatives.        Republican Bill Kidd (Buckner) told his colleagues his wife died after about three weeks in hospice care.  He said hospice care allows a terminally ill person and his or her family a great deal of comfort and assistance

“At the end of that it is an emotional experience to have a coroner want to come into your house and look at the body – and by the way, the body has to stay there untouched, which means that hospice cannot clean the body, cannot prepare it, which also means that the funeral home cannot come in and take the body away.  The family has to stay there with the body in the house … because you haven’t called the coroner,” said Kidd.

“If any of you, I hope never, have to go through a hospice in-home death experience, but the last thing you want is the intrusiveness of a coroner coming in and accusing you of maybe doing something nefarious, and that’s kind of what it is,” said Kidd.

Kansas City Democrat Richard Brown said his wife battled cancer for 12-years.  She was in hospice for two weeks before she died in 2018.

Representative Richard Brown (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“The one thing that she wanted was death with dignity.  That’s what this amendment does, is it allows those person that are in hospice to die with a sense of dignity,” said Brown.  “My wife did not want to go to a coroner and be subjected to an autopsy when we knew what the cause of death would be.”

“I’m asking that for all Missourians who want to die with dignity that you allow them to do so when we know what the imminent cause of death will be when they are in the care of hospice providers,” said Brown.

“In a hospice situation hospice is there on doctor orders, hospice has their own doctors and physicians that come in and access the patient.  They already know – everybody has come to the conclusion that this is a terminal case, and it is not necessary for the coroner to intrude into your private home at such a fragile time,” said Kidd.

Neely’s stand-alone bill, HB 242, has been approved by two House committees and could soon be brought to the floor for debate.  HB 447, to which the language of 242 has been amended, has received initial approval in the House and could soon be sent to the Senate.