New Law Bars Coroners’ Fees Being Charged Victims’ Families

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian on Thursday signed into law a bill to end a short-lived era during which some county coroners were charging the families of murder victims for transporting the victims’ bodies to morgues.

Bereaved families of the victims of violent crimes “already have suffered enough grief and tragedy,” said Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego), who authored the measure. “The state shouldn’t be adding to their problems.”

Killea’s bill, which also prohibits transportation and storage charges in any death--natural, homicide or accidental--of a child under 14, takes effect in January.

Since the Legislature gave the authority in 1983, seven California counties had instituted charges as high as $100 for transporting and storing bodies in their morgues.


But the reform, intended to save money, was never very popular.

Already, San Diego and Riverside counties, the first two to institute such charges, had stopped the practice in response to resentment and outrage expressed by bereaved families.

Los Angeles County, which enacted its transportation fee ordinance after the charges had become a controversial issue in San Diego, excluded homicide victims all along.

Killea’s bill was inspired by George Cullins, the father of a murdered Pacific Beach woman, who was infuriated when the San Diego County coroner’s office billed him for $65.


Cullins, a retired Marine Corps major whose daughter Janette was strangled in May, 1984, protested the charge in a letter to the county and sent copies to newspapers.

Cullins, who refused to pay the charge, wrote that it takes “gall” for the government to spend millions on the defense of criminal suspects, while making the families of victims “pay and pay and pay.”

County Supervisor Paul Eckert agreed that the policy was “unfair” and “cold-hearted.”

Although San Diego County Coroner David Stark gave only a lukewarm defense of the policy, he resisted the suggestion that homicide cases ought to be excluded.


But county supervisors repealed their fee ordinance anyway. Stark and the county coroners’ lobby supported Killea’s bill.

Killea said the provision of her bill regarding children under 14 will mainly affect deaths that result from sudden infant death syndrome.

“The county costs here are minor,” Killea said, “but the loss of an infant or young child is something that can’t be measured.”