GREAT FALLS — About 30 members of the Great Falls community are learning what it takes to be a Sheriff's deputy by taking part in the Citizens Academy, hosted by the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office. MTN News anchor Tim McGonigal is one of the participants, and is filing weekly reports of the experience.
The Cascade County Sheriff/Coroner’s Office investigates "all unattended deaths, suicides, homicides, accidental deaths, deaths which occur within 24 hours of admittance to a medical facility, and child deaths." The coroner, based on the death investigation, determines the manner and cause of death utilizing the factors of circumstances surrounding the incident, medical history of the decedent, and laboratory/autopsy results in certain instances.
For the past decade, dealing with death has been a way of life for Sergeant Andy Lebrun. As chief deputy coroner for the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, his duties include determining the cause, manner, and circumstances of deaths in the county.
“The coroner aspect of it, I’m able to help the families,” said LeBrun. “I can’t do anything for the deceased person, other than investigate their death to the best of my abilities, but I can try to provide some closure for the families and try to help them out the best way I can.”
He pronounces death, identifies the deceased, and notifies the next of kin.
Cyndi Baker lost her husband to a river accident in the summer of 2020 and can attest to the coroner’s compassion and empathy: “On the worst day of my life, the Sheriff’s Office was out there with me at the accident scene. They were able to strike the right tone and just the right note for me when I was in shock basically."
LeBrun says in an age of social media, his job takes on added importance. “I want to make the notification or have the coroner to be able to make the notification to the family in a proper manner, versus having them see it on social media or somebody calls them out of the blue and says, 'Hey, your loved one’s passed away.'”
To help do the job more efficiently, Cascade County was able to secure federal Covid relief funding for construction of a new morgue at the detention center which can hold up to six bodies. “We have modern facilities and a hydraulic scissor lift,” said LeBrun. “Everything in here is new and clean. A lot of Sheriff's offices, especially smaller ones, don’t have any facilities, they have to have a funeral home haul their bodies.”
The majority of Cascade County Sheriff's deputies are certified coroners; 10 of them are active coroners. LeBrun says they all have each other’s backs in tough times, such as investigating the death of a child.