Coroner's Office

The San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office is staffed with a Sergeant, 4 detectives, and a part time autopsy technician and legal clerk.   Currently, Forensic Pathology services are performed on a contract basis with NAAG Forensic.

Main Phone Line : (805)781-4513

Fax: (805)786-4010 or (805)781-4912

Email: [email protected]

A death investigation is initiated when the Sheriff/Coroner’s Office is notified by law enforcement, funeral homes, health care providers or loved ones about a death that falls under the jurisdiction of the Coroner’s Office.  The Coroner’s Office is tasked with identifying the decedent, establishing and notifying next of kin, attempting to safeguard personal property and determining the manner and cause of death.  If the death is determined to be criminal in nature, the Coroner’s Office works with the investigating law enforcement agency that has criminal jurisdiction over the death.

A Coroner is an elected or appointed public officer.  In the case of San Luis Obispo County the Coroner is the elected Sheriff, Ian Parkinson.  A Medical Examiner is a licensed forensic pathologist (Medical Doctor) with expertise in investigating various types of deaths.  The Coroner’s Office employs a forensic pathologist to assist in providing the cause of death.

Death Investigation

In general, deaths that are sudden or unexpected are investigated.  All deaths that are a result from an apparent trauma, injury or intoxication must be investigated by our office.  Typically, deaths that are under hospice care or if the decedent has spent numerous days in the hospital are not investigated by the Coroner’s Office due to an attending physician having care over that individual and the willingness to provide a cause of death on the death certificate.

Since the elected Sheriff in San Luis Obispo County is also the elected Coroner, Deputy Sheriffs are also considered Deputy Coroners.   Under most circumstances, a uniformed Deputy Sheriff will respond to the location of a reported death and will begin the initial investigation into the death.  If the circumstances of the death require additional resources or if the investigation is complex in nature, a Coroner’s Detective could respond to the scene and take over the investigation.   The investigation on scene will consist of an examination of the body for any outward signs of trauma, taking photos of the scene and the decedent, and inquiring about the circumstances surrounding the death (including the decedent’s medical history).  Just because a uniformed Deputy Sheriff is on scene, does not mean the death is considered suspicious or criminal in nature.


Once the investigation on scene is complete, your loved one will be transported to either the Coroner’s Office or a local mortuary that is selected by the next of kin.  If it is decided by family that the decedent is to go to a mortuary out of county, that transportation request must be cleared first by the Coroner’s Office.  If there is no next of kin on scene or no direction is given as to which mortuary is to be used, the Coroner’s Office has an “On Call” mortuary that will pick up the decedent and transport them to their facility.  The “On Call” mortuaries are simply one of our local mortuaries that has agreed to take responsibility until it is decided which mortuary will officially take over the final disposition of the remains.  If the decedent was transported directly to the Coroner’s Office by either the mortuary service or a Coroner’s Detective, it was determined that further investigation was needed in the case.

The Coroner’s Office is only a temporary holding facility.  Your loved one should only be at the Coroner’s Office for no more than a few days.  An exam will be scheduled and you will notified of the results at the conclusion of the exam.  There could be a delay in releasing the decedent from the Coroner’s Office if there is a question of identity or if a mortuary is not chosen.  If the family of the decedent fails to pick a mortuary, the “On Call” mortuary will be utilized.

No, viewing is not allowed at the Coroner’s Office.  We are not equipped to handle family at our facility. If you would like to conduct a viewing, please contact the mortuary and make arrangements through them.

The type of exam to be performed depends on the specifics of the case.  The Forensic Pathologist will obtain information that was gathered during the investigation.  They will then determine the extent of the exam to be performed.  In general, 3 different types of exams can be performed:

Autopsy: This is a surgical examination of the body.  This procedure looks at the external and internal components of the body to document injuries, disease, and other conditions of the body.  The procedure is performed by our forensic pathologist who has specialized training in recognizing the appearance of injuries and the effects of diseases.

Partial Autopsy:  Similar to the above procedure but more limited in scope.

External Examination:  A detailed examination of the external components of the body.  No incisions into the body are made during the procedure.

No.  Autopsies are not always necessary when the pathologist is making the determination of cause of death.  The Forensic Pathologist will determine what type of exam will be performed and the extent of the exam after consulting with the Coroner’s Detective and a review of the case.

Typically, the San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office will conduct toxicology screening on most cases that are brought to the office for investigation.  In some circumstances, toxicology samples are not available and in those instances no tests will be run.

The San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office does not have an inhouse laboratory that can conduct quantitative analysis on toxicological samples.  The samples are sent to an outside laboratory for analysis.  The current time frame for results on toxicology samples could be as long as 4-6 weeks.

Death Certificate

In some cases, additional testing needs to be conducted at the conclusion of the physical examination.  Additional testing could include but not be limited to toxicological, chemical, or microscopic tests.  The forensic pathologist will determine what tests are necessary to arrive at the most accurate cause of death.  It is common to see “pending” on a death certificate when it is suspected to be a drug related death for example.  Even though the death certificate says “Pending Investigation” that does not interfere with the family’s ability to continue with the final disposition of the decedent.  Please contact the mortuary you are using and they will help you with the process.

No, the death certificate will not say “Pending” forever.  Once the information that is needed by the pathologist is obtained, they will provide final causes of death.  This process can take several months at times depending on the tests that are being run.  Most cases will resolve within a few months.  If you would like an update on the case please contact the Coroner Detective working on the case to obtain that information.  Once the final causes have been added, you can obtain an amendment to the death certificate through the San Luis Obispo County Vital Records office or from the mortuary you used.

You can obtain a copy of the death certificate through the Clerk/Recorders office or Vital Records (Link).  You can also ask the mortuary you used and they can obtain copies for you.  There is a fee per certificate.  The Coroner’s Office does NOT issue death certificates.


The State of California has list in order of who is to be considered legal next of kin for interment purposes (Health and Safety Code 7100)

  1. Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner (This does not include “Common Law” or long term dating relationship)
  2. Adult Children
  3. Parents
  4. Sibling
  5. Grandparents, Grandchildren, Uncles, Aunts, Nieces, and Nephews

At times, the Coroner’s Office will “Seal” a residence or room belonging to a decedent.  This occurs by the Coroner’s Office placing a bumper sticker sized seal on the door of a residence.  If you are not the designated next of kin or executor of the decedent’s estate you could be charged with a crime prior to entering the residence.  Please check with the Coroner’s Office before breaking the seal if you have any questions.

The Coroner’s Office will make attempts to secure the personal property of a loved one.  If personal items (i.e. wallet, house and car key, money) were taken for safekeeping by the Coroner’s Office the items should be available to pick up at the Sheriff Property Office 805-781-4533.  The property office will only release property by appointment only and if you are the next of kin or authorized to pick up property for the next of kin.  The Property Office will consult with the Coroner’s Office if property is to be released.

What Next?

The County of San Luis Obispo does have an Indigent burial program that is operated by the Social Services Department.  You will need to fill out additional paperwork and show proof that you do not have the ability to pay for services.

When an unexpected death occurs, many times, our office get the question “What do I do now?”  The Coroner’s Office will work with the mortuary to make sure the process gets completed and that your loved one is taken care of.  You will need to first decide what mortuary you would like to use.  Once that is done, you can simply make the final arrangements with them.  The Coroner’s Office and mortuary will work on completing the Death Certificate.  If the decedent had a will or established a trust, you should attempt to locate that document and refer to it if it contains the decedent’s wishes regarding final disposition.

Reports & Records

If the death of the decedent was investigated by the Coroner’s Office, there should be a report that you can obtain.  A typical case will have a Coroner’s Report, Autopsy Report, and a Toxicology Report that you can receive a copy of.  Please contact the Coroner’s Office or ask the Detective who has the case for a copy of the report.  Once the file is complete, we can either mail you a hard copy of the reports or we can email them to you.  Please be advised that a report can take several months to complete depending on the investigation.  If you are concerned about something regarding the case, please contact the detective involved for an update.  In cases where the death is under criminal investigation by either a local law enforcement agency or the District Attorney’s Office, the report will not be released until that investigation is complete.

Some portions of the reports you obtain are redacted.  Identifying information for next of kin, specific medical information and names can be redacted from the report.  This is to help protect confidential information.

No.  Medical records from a heath care provider are protected information.  If we obtained records during our investigation, we will not be able to release them.  The Autopsy report from our pathologist is available if an exam was completed and can be requested by contacting the Coroner’s Office.

Mortuary List

For locations of our local mortuaries, click here.