Increase in cases at coroner's office causing death certificate delays

Gordon Boyles died in November, but his wife didn't get his death certificate for several weeks.
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The city's homicide rate is now making victims out of innocent people.

13 Investigates uncovers a 20-percent increase in cases at the Marion County Coroner's Office, which is causing delays for death certificates and putting grieving families at financial risk.

"He was in the Navy," said Susan Boyles, flipping through a photo album in her east Indianapolis home.

She recalled her husband's mission on the first run of a nuclear submarine, as she talks about her own struggle to stay financially afloat since his death last November.

Gordon Boyles was heading home from work after loading some recyclables.

"He was right outside of his workplace," she said.

It was after 6 p.m. on November 19th.

"The car was running, the door was open, his feet were out and he was just slumped over in the seat," she explained. "Dead."

It was a devastating loss for Susan. For eight weeks, she's been grieving and waiting for the Marion County Coroner's Office to issue Gordon's death certificate.

"I'm just sitting here waiting for them to tell me, because I don't know," she said, breaking down in tears.

Her life at that point, hanging in the balance of financial turmoil.

"I can't pay any of the bills, I can't pay the funeral home. You can't do anything without a death certificate," she added, describing the frustration of not being able to handle any financial transactions.

So what's causing the delay?

It's believed the 71-year-old died of heart complications. In 1991, he had three stents put in. But because Gordon Boyles died at work, his case was mandated to the Marion County Coroner's Office.

But what his family didn't count on was a backlog of homicides and investigations already stacking up

"We're a bit overwhelmed, we've had a significant number of homicides," confirmed Alfarena Ballew, the Chief Deputy Coroner in Marion County.

She says families are advised toxicology cases normally take 6-8 weeks to determine a cause of death. Ballew says there's no way her office could have predicted what happened in Marion County in 2013.

"We have had nearly a 20-percent increase in death investigations. With that we've had more than a 20-percent increase in autopsies," she told 13 Investigates.

Susan Boyles says she survived the eight weeks on the kindness of her church family, her husband's employer and friends. But when she was told she might not have a death certificate until February, she decided it was time to speak out.

She did and 13 Investigates got action. Ballew now says the case has been closed out.

"We've been working with the funeral home to try to close out the death certificate for the family," Ballew said.

The coroner's office has mandated overtime for its staff to close out last year's cases. Ballew says she understands time matters when it comes to death certificates. She says the coroner's office is trying to make sure the cases are handled appropriately to avoid difficulties later.

Susan Boyles is personally relieved, but concerned for families who might not have financial help during the wait.