Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH, FAAP, Commissioner of Health
Janinne Blank, MBA, RN, Director, Division of Medical Examiner
Tara J. Mahar, MD, Chief Medical Examiner
Katherine F. Maloney, MD, Associate Chief Medical Examiner
It is the mission of the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office to serve the public in a professional, confidential and courteous manner in the medico-legal investigation of deaths in western NY counties, thereby enhancing our understanding of death and dying. Our objectives are to work diligently to determine the cause and manner of death of our constituents, and to convey those findings in a timely fashion to families and to such agencies in the health and legal communities that have ongoing concerns related to the deceased and their survivors.
The Office of the Medical Examiner is organized into three sections under the Department of Health: Forensic Pathology, Field Investigation and Laboratory, including Forensic Toxicology and Histology.
As mandated by law, the Office of the Medical Examiner is responsible for investigating the death of any person who dies within Erie County as a result of criminal violence, neglect, casualty, suicide, or in any suspicious or unusual manner. Other cases investigated include those involving individuals who die suddenly when in apparent health or those unattended by a physician. The office also investigates deaths occurring while a person is confined in a public institution other than a hospital, infirmary or nursing home. Manners of death are classified as natural, accidental, homicide, suicide, or undetermined. Full forensic autopsies performed include an initial investigation, external and internal examination, toxicology, histology, and at times, expert testimony.
The histology laboratory and the forensic toxicology laboratory within the Medical Examiner’s Office provide specialized laboratory services in death and drug facilitated sexual assault investigations. The histology laboratory prepares paraffin blocks that serve as a permanent repository of tissues collected at autopsy. Glass slides may also be prepared for the detection, identification and description of trauma and/or disease processes. The forensic toxicology laboratory analyzes body fluids, tissues and drug delivery devices for the presence and quantity of drugs and other poisons that may cause or contribute to a death. As such, these are mandated services as this work is integral to the proper functioning of the Medical Examiner’s Office. The toxicology laboratory also provides vital testing services to Erie County residents who are or may be victims of a sexual assault, while under the influence of a drug.
It is the responsibility of the office to generate death certificates as to cause and manner of death. The office also participates in the training programs for SUNY at Buffalo Medical School resident doctors and third and fourth year medical students; SUNY at Buffalo fourth year dental school students; Buffalo State Forensic Chemistry students; Hilbert College Forensic Science and Criminal Justice students; SUNY at Buffalo Anthropology students; and EMT students. Revenue enhancing activities are derived through contractual agreements with Niagara, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties for forensic autopsy services, and Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Jefferson Counties for forensic toxicology assistance.
The Office of the Medical Examiner is responsible for investigating the death of any person who dies as a result of criminal violence, or neglect, or by casualty or by suicide, or suddenly when in apparent health, or when unattended by a physician, or in any suspicious or unusual manner.
A. Accidents (All Types)
(B) Homicides (All types)
When the manner of death is caused by or related to criminal or self-induced abortion, such deaths must be reported to the Office of the Medical Examiner, even if assault occurred many years prior.
(D) Abortions - Criminal or Self-Induced
When the manner of death is caused by or related to criminal or self-induced abortion, such deaths must be reported to the Office of the Medical Examiner.
(E) Sudden Deaths
(G) Infant Deaths
The Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office works collaboratively with Upstate New York Transplant Services in order to honor the families’ wishes regarding the authorization for donation of organs, tissues and eyes while maintaining the integrity of their medico legal responsibilities. It is with rare exception that the procurement of organs, tissues and eyes is denied by the Erie County Medical Examiner’s office. Should a death occur under homicidal circumstances and the family has authorized donation, the District Attorney’s office will be contacted for permission to procure the authorized organs, tissue and eyes. For further information contact UNYTS at 716-853-6667 ext. 5.
The information contained within an autopsy report is confidential and treated as a medical record. The final report is available at no charge to the immediate and legal next of kin (spouse, adult child, parent, adult sibling or grandparent) by clicking on the Request for Autopsy Report Form.
If there is a request for a copy of the report from someone other than those legally entitled (e.g. insurance company or private attorney), the request must be submitted on their letterhead and include a HIPPA form signed by the legal next of kin. Also included should be a $38.50 check made payable to the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Autopsy results and reports will not be given out until the case file is complete. If the death was suspicious or the autopsy report contains sensitive material that could jeopardize a criminal investigation, there will be a delay before it is released.