Years of effort reap reward for Missouri families looking to hold coroners accountable

Problem Solvers

GILLIAM, Mo. — Missouri families who believe their loved one’s deaths were mishandled by a county coroner scored a recent victory.

Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill into law this week to hold bad corners accountable.

That’s something Jay Minor has been fighting for since his 27-year-old son Jake died nearly nine years ago.

To this day, he has no idea why his seemingly healthy son died, a question that could have been answered if the Howard County Coroner had ordered an autopsy – something that’s required when the cause of death can’t be determined.

What happened to Jay’s son is common in a state where many county coroners operate with limited budgets, little training and no oversight – something Minor was determined to change.

“This had gone way beyond us and what happened to my son,” he said.”We knew that we had to do this and follow it through so that nobody else would have to go through this.”

Jay and his wife Debbie spent years writing letters, testifying before lawmakers and sharing their concerns with anyone who would listen. Other families who’d lost loved ones and encountered similar problems – like Joy Chance – joined them.

Their efforts came to a satisfying end this week. Jay and his wife stood next to Gov. Parson as he signed the bill into law.

It’s an omnibus bill, but the section on coroners establishes a standards and training commission whose members will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. 

The commission will establish statewide policies and training  to make sure coroners know the law and follow it. Coroners who fail to take the training can be stripped of their power to sign death certificates and could be replaced.

Before the governor handed Minor a copy of the bill, he wrote, “For Jake in his honor.” Those words brought the normally stoic dad to tears.

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