Q&A with Coroner Tommy Davis

COVINGTON, Ga. - On Aug. 13, The Covington News published its first installment of if questions with Newton County Coroner Tommy Davis. Since then, additional questions have been submitted to help clarify the elected position.

As promised, Davis’ answers will be featured in The News as a quarterly series. If you have any questions you would like to have answered about the coroner’s office, please email them to news@covnews.com and they could be included in the next publication of the series.

The News: Can you explain why some autopsy results can come back within days, while others take months?

Davis: Autopsy results do not only rely on the medical examination of the body alone but rely heavily on the scene investigation, medical records review and, in some cases, further testing of blood and tissue.  When the review of medical records is required or if toxicology and or histology testing is needed the cause and manner of death can be delayed up to 90 days or more.  There is an epidemic of opioid-related deaths that have the laboratories that preform these test backlogged.  The backlog has resulted in the delay in autopsy results, not only in Georgia but across the country.     

The News: What medical records are needed to complete a death investigation?

Davis: When medical records are needed to complete the death certificate we subpoena all medical records related to the deceased from the last known medical provider or hospital.  

The News: Are autopsies completed differently depending on the person’s age at death? Are there different steps required for autopsies of children versus adults or vice-versa?

Davis: No, the age of a person does not play a factor in determining the type of examination that is needed or even if one will be done.  The law states that a medical examiner's inquiry be started at the time of one’s death and that inquiry will establish the need for further examination.  In Newton County the medical examiner's inquiry is established by the coroner's office and those findings determine the need for a consult with a medical examiner.  In cases that require a consult, the medical examiner will determine what information he or she may need and if there is a need for further examination.  In all cases that involve the medical examiner's office, the medical examiner consulted will, along with the coroner or deputy coroner, make the final decision if an autopsy is required.     

Submitted question: As a person trying to pursue a career of being a Coroner, what do you suggest my first actions to be after graduating high school?

Davis: Continue your education, of course, and look into a career path works closely with coroners and medical examiners.

You will find, especially in Georgia, that a full-time career as a coroner is difficult, most coroners and deputy coroners have other full-time jobs or careers. Out of the all the coroner's offices in our state, there are only a couple of the offices that are classified as full-time positions. Those offices are in counties like Bibb and Richmond and handle a large call volume requiring those offices to have a staff similar to those of a medical examiner's office.  

My background is in the funeral industry and I still work in that field, you will find most coroners’ offices in our state have some affiliation with a funeral home in some way or another.  There are also paramedics, EMT's and firefighters that work in our field as well.  The main duty we are tasked with as coroners is to determine cause and manner of death along with investigating the circumstances that lead to the death. So, maybe look into a career in law enforcement and then move into a medical examiner's investigators position with a large county or state medical examiner's office. Good luck, and know you can always reach out to me anytime.   

Submitted question: Who keeps all the old coroner records dating back to the start of the county? How far back do you have records from?

The records of the coroner office are lifetime records, not of the coroner but of the office. However, our records only go back into the 1980's.