Sin City coroner inks deal for Discovery episodes

LAS VEGAS (AP) - About 14,000 people die each year in and around Las Vegas. The Clark County coroner’s office investigates about 3,500 of those deaths and conducts about 1,500 autopsies.

There are stories behind those corpses _ untold drama in the discovery of how the person met his or her end and the search for next-of-kin. For some, the name is the final mystery.

All of which prompted a cable television network to approach Coroner Michael Murphy to tell what his team of five medical examiners and 12 forensic technicians have learned about life and death in Sin City. The county recently inked a deal with Discovery Studios to make the medical examiner’s office the subject of a series of TV episodes.

Murphy said he hopes to teach people about dangerous lifestyles while also putting a name to an unidentified body or two to bring closure to families that don’t know what happened to missing loved one.

“The vast majority of people don’t die from violent acts,” Murphy said, putting diabetes, heart disease and prescription drug abuse atop the list of causes of death in this Nevada county home to almost 2 million residents and a neon-lit city that draws 40 million visitors a year.

“Hopefully it’ll be a good way for people to think about health risks,” he said. “We don’t want clients.”

Michael Masland, the Discovery Studios development official who worked for two years to reach a production deal with Murphy and Clark County, said he expects filming to begin soon and a pilot to air sometime in 2012, with at least several segments to follow.

“They know somebody’s life is going to be changed by what they find,” Masland said. “It’s real human drama. But it’s not reality television.”

The Clark County Commission unanimously approved the production deal in September with a promise that the county will get $5,000 per episode and Discovery Studios LLC of Silver Spring, Md., won’t show personally identifiable characteristics. Clark County officials get to see rough cuts before the shows air.

Murphy, meanwhile, gets to include a public service announcement with each episode featuring one of his office’s 202 currently unsolved cases.

The goal, Murphy and Masland said in separate interviews, is not to produce a show like CSI-Las Vegas, COPS, Las Vegas Jailhouse or even Dr. G: Medical Examiner.

Instead, they want to show coroner investigators and medical examiners at work _ from accident or crime scene to autopsy and medical examination to search for and notification of next-of-kin

Murphy is an energetic and completely bald 57-year-old former police officer and jailer who speaks frequently at conferences and seminars. He sheds his button-down look to make vacation trips to Africa to teach investigative techniques to police in Uganda and Tanzania. He underwent knee replacement surgery recently, and returned to work so quickly that his doctor had to warn him to slow down.

He likes to say his staff speaks for the dead. He speaks for his staff.

“We see this as an opportunity to show people what we do, but it’s not designed to show specific cases,” Murphy said of the Discovery project. “We’re not going to embarrass families.”

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