Coroner bends rules to allow grieving family to hold funeral for toddler
A Delaware County family devastated by a fire last week says it is overwhelmed with the help it is getting from the community. They've received clothing, furniture, toys and money to pay the funeral expenses of three-year-old Clayton Wooten.
The funeral is possible because the county coroner put common sense ahead of the letter of the law.
Four days after the tragic fire, authorities have yet to identify the cause or positively identify the victim. To give the boy's family some peace, the Delaware County coroner bent Indiana law.
Amid all the debris shoveled from the Muncie home, a book randomly opened to the Bible verse reads, "Let not your hearts be troubled."
The hearts that loved Clayton Wooten are very troubled. His mother Katherine Wooten and younger brother Jabree escaped an inferno that raced through their home Thursday morning.
The family finalized funeral arrangements only because coroner Scott Hahn put common sense ahead of the law.
When asked if he was sticking his neck out on this case, coroner Scott Hahn answered, "A little bit. Yes, we are."
If immediate family members can't identify the victim, Indiana law says the coroner must have fingerprints, dental records, or DNA before making an official identification.
The law is intended to prevent coroners or relatives from misidentifying victims.
Clayton was badly burned. Like most typical three-year-olds, he didn't have dental or finger print records. Hahn explained that DNA test results will take three to four weeks.
Rather than make the family wait, Hahn returned the boy's remains.
He says investigators found him exactly where the boy's mother told them to look. There are no other missing children in the area.
"We are making some assumptions that we probably shouldn't make. You have to use some good logic and make some good judgment calls," said Hahn.
The coroner will formally identify the child when DNA results are available.
So far, investigators have found no evidence of a crime. The Delaware County prosecutor expects to see the investigator's conclusions by the end of the week. From there, he will decide how the case proceeds.