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Ephemera Photograph by Jeffrey Sward
Coroner's Warning Notice Attached to Door (cor0250ax)

On Friday June 15, 2018, our deceased neighbor was wheeled out of his condo on gurney by the coroner. He had been dead for some time, as his mail had not been picked up for at least a week. It was an unattended death, meaning that there was no doctor-created death certificate. The coroner must determine a cause of death when the death is unattended. Apparently, in these cases, it is routine procedure for the coroner to seal the residence until the cause of death is determined.

Several months before this final event, this neighbor had collapsed on the common porch in front of his and our units. We heard his call for help and, per his request, called 911. The 911 operator insisted on talking directly to him. It took a few moments to reroute the call to a cell phone and walk the cell phone outside. By the time he began talking to the 911 operator, he decided he did not want any assistance.

Over the ensuing months he became more and more of a recluse. He began to obtain food only by restaurant home delivery. He also received a substantial number of home deliveries of liquor. At some point is stopped using his car other than to move it a few feet every 72 hours to avoid towing.

Over the last few weeks, the number of food deliveries tapered off, and fewer signs of activity emerged. For example, lights came on less frequently.

After about a week of not picking up his mail and three weeks not removing his curbside trash cans, it became obvious that he was either seriously incapacitated or dead.

On this Friday morning, we contacted our on-site condo association manager to determine the recommended procedure. The manager agreed to contact the landlord as this was a rental unit. The manager also informed us that during a county welfare visit or a police visit, when there is no occupant response, that both the welfare and police officers would not enter the premises [1]. This seems like a peculiar response to a possible death. There is probably some liability reason of this policy.

In America today, coming into someone's home without permission is a big deal.  Unless you have family, roommates, or friends who have implicit permission to come in when they want (and have a key) the only way someone could find you is if they're so sure you're in trouble that they'd call the police to force the door open.  Either that, or it would wait until you either got evicted or foreclosed on. Either way, a lot of people who live alone would wait weeks to months before being found. The only way I can see around that is to give all your friends keys and tell them to come in whenever they want. -- Geoffrey Widdison commenting on entry procedures in Quora. [2]

Coincidentally, on Friday afternoon, some of his relatives arrived unannounced as part of a previously planned trip. The relatives had not been contacted by the condo manager or anyone else. The relatives entered the condo by some unknown means, discovered the body, and called the police. The police then contacted the coroner.

These events suggest two topics:
  1. Issues of living alone
  2. Personal choices about life and death.

[1] If the police believe there are exigent circumstances, they can force entry. Anything less, the need a warrant or permission to enter.

{2} Widdison, Geoffrey. "Complex human emotions are more trouble than they're worth." July 25, 2015.


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