Carol Huser

The county has been lucky to have her, but her departure highlights antiquated system

Dr. Carol Huser stepped down earlier this month after nearly 10 years as La Plata Coroner. Her departure is a loss, felt all the more forcefully as a reminder of how lucky this area has been to have had her here.

We wish her well in whatever life has in store for her.

A board-certified forensic pathologist, Huser is by far the best qualified coroner anyone can remember serving La Plata County. Not only was her presence here a great convenience for local law enforcement agencies, it also made for speedier and ultimately better work.

In Colorado, coroner is an elective office, the qualifications for which do not include any medical training. If, as is common in less populated parts of the state, the coroner is not a pathologist, autopsies require either calling on someone from elsewhere or transporting the body.

In the past, bodies from here have been taken to Albuquerque, Montrose or Grand Junction to be autopsied. That can be costly and time consuming.

Plus, with the expert help of a pathologist readily available investigating a death can be more timely and more certain. There are times when it is not readily clear a death is natural, a suicide or a homicide. Any delay in that determination could heighten a family’s anguish – and might mean a killer is on the loose.

That Huser approached her duties with professionalism and integrity is clear from those she worked with in law enforcement. That she also brought compassion, intellectual honesty and wit to the job shows through in her monthly column in the Herald.

In her writing – which will continue to appear in the Herald – she often explained the ambiguity and uncertainty a medical examiner can face, and the ethical dilemmas that can result. She was never afraid to admit that sometimes the facts remain unknown.

We are grateful for the time Huser spent here. Her service was of great value.

Huser’s leaving, however, highlights the flaws in Colorado’s coroner system. Anyone 18 years old, who has lived in the county for a year, and has no felony convictions, can be elected coroner – with zero medical training. It is an antiquated and archaic system that should be replaced by professional medical examiners.

Carol Huser’s example should inspire lawmakers to look at just that.

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