Name: Kelly C. Lear
Profession: Forensic Pathologist/Arapahoe County Coroner
Biography: Colorado native, lives in Littleton area with her family which includes three teenage daughters.
What do you believe the coroner’s office can do about the fentanyl crisis?
Our role is to collect accurate information and data about fentanyl overdose deaths and work toward identifying areas for prevention. The office actively seeks educational opportunities at all levels of our community, engages in public health/medical/law enforcement partnerships for treatment and training opportunities, and believes in medically accurate death reporting in order to identify emerging trends.
What are your views on the continuing COVID pandemic and how would your office continue to record those deaths?
Our office must investigate unexpected and unattended deaths, and deaths at home from undiagnosed COVID infections fall under that umbrella. In persons dying with symptoms but without scientific diagnosis, we will continue to perform COVID and other infectious disease testing combined with postmortem examinations to evaluate for all possible causes of death in order to ensure accurate diagnosis of COVID. I rely on my training as a medical doctor to determine the actual cause of death whether that be from COVID or another cause.
What is your specific medical experience and how are you qualified for the role of coroner?
I am a medical doctor with board certification in forensic pathology, 27 years of experience in the Arapahoe Coroner's Office, including 18 years as a full-time forensic pathologist performing autopsies, overseeing death investigations, and certifying death certificates. I have performed over 5,000 autopsies, testified as an expert witness in over 150 criminal and civil trials, have numerous peer-reviewed publications in the field of forensics, and am nationally recognized as an expert in forensic pathology. An autopsy is the practice of medicine, and by statute forensic autopsies must be performed by a board-certified forensic pathologist.
In your view, what are some of the most important functions of the coroner’s office that some may not know about?
We investigate sudden and unexpected deaths of every kind; the fentanyl crisis and homicides get most of the media attention, however we see so much more, including deaths from suicide, motor vehicle crashes, and other causes. Every death represents the loss of someone's family member or friend, and our work with the families — from doing the first notification of death to calling the families with a final result or answer — is the most important part of our work. We tell an individual's final story, and we must follow national standards and use medical training to ensure professionalism.
How do you believe this role can become political and what are your views on that?
The coroner's office should be a medical office, not a political stage. Many states have eliminated the coroner system in favor of a medical examiner system which ensures medical leadership by an appointed forensic pathologist. Politics should not determine who does or does not receive an autopsy; politics should also not determine what is listed on a death certificate. As seen with the COVID pandemic, people may voice opinions on causes of death without medical training or scientific knowledge; the coroner however should be drawing from knowledge of disease and pathophysiology to make that medical determination.
(Editor's note: Coroner candidates Ron Bouchard and Kat Martin did not respond to multiple reminders to answer the questions posed to every candidate.)