ELIZABETHTOWN — The Elizabethtown Rotary Club learned about the duties and responsibilities of the position of coroner on Wednesday.
Hubert Kinlaw has served as Bladen County coroner since 1986 and worked with Sampson-Bladen Oil Company for 57 years.
Kinlaw told those gathered that he had aged out of the Jaycees and at that time, the Elizabethtown Rescue Squad was strictly voluntary. He said the rescue service later moved towards having paid positions but there are still many vounteers who go on calls.
Kinlaw said he ended up in the position of coroner becasue of Wanda Campbell. He related that oen evenign they had found a body in East Arcadia, and Kinlaw said tht he got a call from Campbell and she appointed him to be assistant coroner to Coroner Aubrey Flint.
“I was more available than he was,” said Kinlaw.
He said after he was appointed assistant coroner, a mobile home caught fire and burned and a body was inside. Kinlaw said they paged him to the scene. Kinlaw said after that call, he was approached about running to become elected to the office of coroner. Kinlaw said he filed and won the election.
Kinlaw said he has had no competition for that office.
“My wife and I used have a lot of conversations about it,” said Kinlaw.
He then explained briefly what it is a coroner does. Kinlaw said the coroner signs all of the death certificates in the county.
“We go out and investigate deaths. At that time (when he first took on the role) they had a medical examiner at the hospital. Well, a coroner was going out with EMS and we were going to unattended deaths, doing the paperwork, and the medical examiner would do the autopsy, etc.,” said Kinlaw.
He said that one day he came into his office and there was a note to call the chief medical examiner. Kinlaw said that out of that conversation, he was appointed to the role of medical examiner.
“It is not the deceased person you help its those that are left,” said Kinlaw of his dual role.
He said that the criteria for coming a medical examiner are changing. Kinlaw said recenty the state has been having problems with the medical examiner system. Kinlaw said it began three years ago with the carbon monoxide death of an elderly couple in a motel.
Kinlaw said the medical examiner for that county was a medical doctor and he performed an autopsy to determine the couple’s cause of death. Once he determined the cause of death, the medical examiner did not notify the hotel where the couple was staying of his findings. Kinlaw said that as a result a different family stayed in the same room and they too were harmed by carbon monoxide before the hotel was notified of the problem.
In 2014, he handled 74 cases. Of those two were murders, 14 were accidents and 11 were ruled pending meaning an autopsy was necessary and a couple were suicides.
In comparison, Kinlaw said this year there have been two suicides and in six weeks there have been three murders.
When asked about performing or ordering an autopsy, Kinlaw said, “If you investigate a case well, you possibly can eliminate an autopsy.”
Kinlaw said that the cost to the county to perform an autopsy currently is about $2,800 and that costs and fees associated with an autopsy are set to increase.
He added that the bottom line is most people really want to know what happened to their loved ones.
Kinlaw said there is also an assistant coroner. Kenneth Clark has been serving as assistant coroner for 14 years.