- Associated Press - Sunday, January 29, 2017

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska prosecutors sometimes have to make difficult decisions about whether to order an autopsy when it’s not clear how someone died.

The Grand Island Independent reports (http://bit.ly/2kgPxCu ) those decisions are part of the county attorney’s coroner role to determine the cause of death.

State law requires autopsies for anyone younger than 19, and the procedure is routinely ordered when there is no clear explanation for a death.

Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf says he tries not to order an autopsy if there aren’t suspicious circumstances. When someone dies in their 90s or after a recent hospital stay, he says those decisions are relatively easy.

But it’s a tougher call when a 40-year-old dies with no apparent explanation.

“Those are the ones where you really struggle about whether or not you ought to get an autopsy,” Zitterkopf said.

In cases “where there’s no logical explanation for a person dying, we order autopsies,” he said.

Zitterkopf and other prosecutors who do this job across the state make their decisions by talking with investigators and possibly visiting the scene of the death. Most of the time, investigators have gathered enough information to quickly determine if an autopsy is needed.

Zitterkopf doesn’t always go to the scene. Sometimes he can get enough information in a 2 a.m. phone call with officers to decide.

If a prosecutor decides not to order an autopsy, family members can make their own arrangements, but then they have to pay for the procedure.

“Not many people do that,” Zitterkopf said.

___

Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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