Coroner's Office

Zachary P. Hanna – Coroner – Began 1st term in January, 2014.
Jennifer Eckenroad-Sholley – Chief Deputy Coroner
John V. Hanna, Sr. – Deputy Coroner
Dustin Sholley – Deputy Coroner
Donald “Woozy” Walker – Deputy Coroner (Former Coroner)

The duties of the Coroner position are often a mystery to the public. Not many children aspire to grow up to become Coroner, and education around themes of death tends to be taboo in our culture. Exactly what does a Coroner do? And when should the Coroner be called?

According to the Pennsylvania Statutes pertaining to the Office of the Coroner, Section 1237: the Coroner must be notified to investigate the circumstances concerning deaths to determine the identification of the deceased, cause and manner of death, and whether an autopsy should be conducted. Deaths that require Coroner’s investigation are sudden or unexpected, medically unattended, suspicious or violent deaths. The Coroner is also empowered to conduct an inquest and subpoena witnesses in deaths that may have resulted from criminal action or a negligent act. Specifically, the Coroner is called to investigate:

  • Death of unknown cause
  • Death occurring under suspicious circumstances, including alcohol, drugs, etc.
  • Unidentified or unclaimed body
  • Death due to known/suspected contagious disease/constitutes a public hazard
  • Operative and peri-operative deaths
  • Death occurring in prison or while in custody of the police
  • Death of persons to be cremated or buried at sea
  • Sudden infant death syndrome and stillbirths

  • The Coroner is also responsible for maintaining the security of the scene, determining medical history, notifying the next of kin, securing the personal property of the deceased until the family can claim it, and issuing death certificates. Annually, there are about 300 deaths referred to the Clinton County Coroner’s Office. Of those, about 10% require autopsies, so the Coroner spends about 30 days a year transporting bodies to and from either Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College or JC Blair Hospital in Huntingdon, where autopsies are performed. He may assist in the autopsy process and determine cause and manner of death, whether natural, accidental, suicide, homicide, or undetermined.

    A Little History Lesson

    Even before they were known as Coroners, individuals were designated to investigate deaths in a community. The official title of “Coroner” originated in England around 1100-1200 A.D. At first called “crowners,” these citizens were appointed by the Crown to investigate violent, unexplained deaths and to make sure that any property left by the deceased was added to the treasure trove of the King of England. The term also relates to the Latin word for crown, “corona.”

    It is believed that William Penn appointed one of the first Coroners to determine cause of death in the Colonies in 1682, after a dead body was found on a river bank. Early American Coroners, like their English counterparts, relied mainly on common sense, since most did not have a medical background. In some cases they simply guessed. The only requirement for a Coroner, at the time, was proof that he was not an ex-convict! As the country grew, Coroners were elected for all of the original 13 colonies. As more new states and territories developed, Coroners were elected as county officers, comparable to sheriffs, with whom they often traded places.