Behind the scenes in the Ada County Coroner's Office

Posted at 5:10 PM, Nov 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-27 19:10:07-05

On any given day, but especially Mondays, the Ada County Coroner's Office is overflowing with work to be done, and not just with cases in the Boise area. 

Ada County's forensic team provides support to 33 counties and three Native American Reservations across the  Gem State, making Ada County the busiest coroner's office in Idaho.

For the folks working at the Ada County Coroner's Office, their days begin where someone else's day -- and life -- ended.

"Once the deputies come in with the bodies, they bring them, unload them and they come in to intake," said Coroner Dotti Owens. "We weigh them, fingerprint them, make sure the identification band is done correctly, and create a case file in the computer." 

On one of their busier days, the team recalls having around a dozen bodies to care for. 

"On a holiday weekend, usually -- and we were open on Friday, conducted business and had autopsies going on all day -- so this is just from Friday night to this morning," Owens said. 
Day after day, the office solves mysteries -- cause of death, manner of death. 

The office's walk-in cooler, set at 47 degrees Fahrenheit, can store between 20 to 25 bodies. 

A separate freezer, set at 8 degrees, stores DNA evidence, like blood and tissue samples. 

"This isn't a very big room," Owens said. "But we keep it pretty packed."

Owens says her office runs on teamwork and communication. She says her staff of about 30 is like a well-oiled machine.

"We try to run two autopsies at once, because we're that busy," Owens said. 

And, of course, not all cases are criminal.

"Suicides and [overdoses] are probably, I would say, what we see the most of," said Jessica Mitchell, investigation supervisor. "...other than natural death."

Forensic science can be described as difficult, even gritty work; but its the solved cases, closure from families, and support within the office that keeps the team going. 

"I've got a whole entire team, we sit around and cry and laugh and just try to get through, and we do it on a day-to-day basis," Owens said. "It's such a fulfilling job. I would do nothing else."

Last year, the office completed more than 600 autopsies for Ada County, and an additional 120 for other counties in the state.

To boost morale and provide stress release, a mini-gym has been set up inside the building, and some parts of the office are dog-friendly for employees.