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McCracken County Public Library Hosts County Coroner Amanda Melton in Evenings Upstairs Presentation Tonight

The McCracken County Public Library presents its next installment of Evenings Upstairs tonight, Thursday, May 16, at 5:30 pm. The presentation is titled "From CSI to Real Life, a Day in the Life of a Coroner" and will feature Melton discussing her unique vocation, which encompasses both a 25-year career as a funeral director and embalmer and now sixth year as a county coroner. Morning Edition host Daniel Hurt speaks to Melton ahead of the presentation.

Melton said when she was first asked to speak about her career, she was grateful for the opportunity to dispel fact from fiction about the job. "Apparently, there were people who showed interest in having me as a presenter," Melton begins. "And I, myself, am intrigued by my own career. And I thought, of course, I would love to go and talk about it. I think there are some general misconceptions, interesting details, and facts that I would like to share. I'm really looking forward to it."

Melton says her work as a funeral director differs from her current job as county coroner because the latter investigates the causes of death and is on the scene immediately after an incident, whereas the funeral director meets with grieving families and plans the services and tributes to loved ones. Still, Melton says there are some similarities.

"They both involve death and grief," Melton says, "but different in the timing. In my role as coroner, I am on the scene where the death occurred, usually within minutes of the death. That means that I'm in someone's home sometimes, or I'm on their property when they have not had time to adjust to what's happened at all. That's a different dynamic for many reasons. And, of course, I'm working with law enforcement and detectives on the scene when I'm working in the coroner capacity. At the funeral home, typically, the meetings are the next day, so there's been a little bit of time to adjust.

She says it's important to note that the funeral director has a multilayered responsibility of planning the funeral logistics and providing the proper tribute for the lost loved one. There is also an informal part of the role in informing families of the process of what comes next immediately following the death.

"That's complicated in that we're getting ready to try to plan a tribute for their loved one. We want to make sure and get that right. We've got one chance to do that correctly, and there's a lot of pressure in that way, too. I'm thankful for anything I can contribute to helping with what, for most people, is the worst day in their life. So, I think if there's anything I can do that is helpful to them, then I think of it as a success."

"I think most people, not to overwhelm them with information, but most people do want to know what is facing them and what are the next steps," she continues. "What should I be doing? In every situation, there's always someone who wants to do something. They want to try to fix or help. I have knowledge of how the entire process will unfold from that point forward. I found that most people do enjoy knowing what's coming up."

After all these years, Melton has learned no one is invincible, and she, as a coroner and funeral director, is not immune to being impacted by helping people deal with loss or investigate deaths. She said she relies on her family and friends for support when she feels down as it is emotionally draining. "I took the advice my mother gave me a long time ago," Melton explains. "She said if you ever find yourself at the end of the day not caring about what's happened and what you've been involved in, then it's time for you to change careers. I believe she's correct about that."

Melton says that it can be difficult to separate her emotions from the work enough to where she can do her job. "But I'm not a robot. I do have days that are tough. Luckily, I have friends who seem to know when I am unusually quiet or maybe just slow to text back. They pick up on all kinds of things like that."

Melton also plans on clearing up misconceptions about her official duties as coroner. "In general, there is a statute that guides the reason the coroner is to be involved in a death. It's most of the things we already know — accidents, suicides, drug involvement, those kinds of things. But the one that I think most people don't understand would be the unexpected, unexplained, and unknown reason. So, for instance, this happens all the time when someone leaves to go on an errand, and they come home, and their loved one has died. There was no precursor; it was not witnessed. No one knows exactly what happened. That's where the coroner comes in."

"Many of those are determined to be of natural causes," Melton continues. "But it's not immediately evident that that's what has happened. So, we go to the scene and just make sure there's no product failure, no accident, no environmental concerns, or anything like that. We interview the family. Then eventually, we'll get medical records and review all of that. We'll look at their medications and then sit down with all of that information and make an informed decision about what we think probably happened. We are tasked with determining the probable cause of death."

Melton says that in situations where it is not clear what the cause of death could be, a forensic specialist called the Regional Medical Examiner is called in to help investigate. With their assessment and the work of the coroner, they collectively decide whether someone needs to go in for further examination or an autopsy. Melton said that the regional medical examiner is an essential partner and adviser for the coroner for many counties who need assistance.

She says one of the most surprising things about the job of coroner is how much prevention is involved in her role. "It could stand to reason that if there is a drug epidemic that is exclusive to West Kentucky, the coroner is going to know probably more than anybody because we work with city, county, state agencies," Melton explains. "We're probably going to have the best view of what is affecting our part of the state."

"Information gets passed up to the regional medical examiner, who then discusses it with the state partners. Eventually, it's looked at by the national agencies. That's how we get product safety. Right now, we're doing a big project called Safe Sleep with Infants — making adults aware that sleeping with a child who cannot roll over or move its airway away from a blanket or a toy is incredibly dangerous. We're doing some really nice productions on that that will be distributed. That all came about because, in my first couple of years, I believe we had eight accidental infant deaths. I was just not aware that that was happening in our society, and it's preventable. It's just a matter of education for adult caregivers."

The McCracken County Public Library presents Evenings Upstairs: From CSI to Real Life: A Day in the Life of a Coroner, led by McCracken County Coroner Amanda Melton, this evening, Thursday, May 16, at 5:30. The event is free and open to the public. For more information on the library's events, visit its website.

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “Daniel Hurt Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.
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