Local Government

UPDATE: Indigent death issue leads to violence against coroner

Adams County Coroner Jim Keller | H-W File Photo
By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 15, 2018 10:55 pm Updated: May. 15, 2018 10:57 pm

QUINCY — Public pushback against enforcement of the an indigent death policy apparently has manifested itself in violence against the Adams County coroner.

Adams County Coroner Jim Keller said he was driving the coroner vehicle last Thursday when someone threw a rock through his open window, striking him in the head. He sent a call out over the scanner and sought medical attention for his injuries.

“I never thought this would get to where it has gotten,” Keller said.

Wendy Smith, right, hugs a loved one after the Adams County Board meeting Tuesday night. Smith and Ann Titus both addressed the board, stressing the need to change the county’s indigent death policy. Smith initially was unable to take possession of her ex-husband’s remains after his death because of the policy. | H-W Photo/Matt Dutton

Keller said he suffered a concussion and required three stitches in his head. He wore a bandage on his face to the Adams County Board meeting Tuesday night.

An uncharacteristically emotional meeting, two Quincy women, Ann Titus and Wendy Smith, spoke out against the policy. A large audience of supporters attended the meeting, applauding Titus when she finished addressing the board.

Keller has come under fire since the policy was brought to light in connection with Smith's story. Her late ex-husband, Christopher Weible, was declared indigent because the family couldn't afford funeral and cremation expenses.

“We don't have a clue what it's like to live such a fragile existence,” Titus said of Smith's financial difficulties. “These policies can help people, or they can really push them over the edge.”

Per the indigent death policy, the county assumes possession of a person's remains and the cost of cremation. Loved ones must pay $1,000 — $800 goes to the funeral homes and $200 to the crematory — before the ashes are returned.

Titus and other volunteers spent hours pouring over documents and old minutes of the Adams County Board to identify references to the indigent death policy.

“It's time to apologize to her and any other people affected by this,” Titus said. “Reparations must begin with an apology, and they should begin tonight.”

County Board Chairman Les Post said he has requested that the Public Health and Safety and Legislative/Judicial committees examine the policy and he anticipates changes will be made soon.

For Smith, the acknowledgement is a sign that she is being heard.

“This should have been done a long time ago,” she said. “I don't want any more people to have the same problem I did.”

Adams County State's Attorney Gary Farha said the committees have a sense of urgency in addressing the issue, and he hopes to see a revised policy presented to the board for approval at the next meeting on Tuesday, June 12.

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