MEET THE CANDIDATE
Sophia Garcia-Jackson, the County’s Chief Deputy Coroner, works closely with Coroner Christina VandePol. Chief Deputy Coroner Garcia-Jackson manages and oversees all functions of the office: administration, investigations, transportation and morgue-related duties. She has supervisor-on-duty responsibilities and is the direct supervisor for the investigators. Her achievements include streamlining the budget process and changing how payments are made in order to enhance transparency. She sits on multiple task forces throughout the County, coordinating with local law enforcement and other agencies. With the Coroner she shares duties including signing death certificates by providing cause and manner of death.
Previously, she worked for the State of New Jersey as a Death Investigator for 6 years. She holds a master’s degree in Forensic Medicine from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from California State with a certification in Forensic Identification, and has completed several internships and training programs. She is certified with the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) and is working on the next level of fellowship and certified with the Pennsylvania Coroner’s Education Board. She is prepared to lead the office on day one and will keep urging the County to construct a modern forensic facility with safety mechanisms so that the office can work in the most important of circumstances, like a pandemic. As the only candidate who has experience investigating and certifying homicides, suicides, accidental deaths (including drug overdoses), and undetermined deaths, she is the only candidate qualified to certify deaths that are not due to natural causes.
WHAT DOES THE CORONER’S OFFICE DO?
The Chester County Coroner heads an independent agency serving the citizens and honoring the deceased of the County by investigating the facts and circumstances concerning jurisdictional deaths which have occurred within Chester County. The main focus of the office is determining the cause and manner of death and the identity of the decedent. The office investigates more than 1,000 reported deaths each year and reviews all cremations in the County. Death investigations can include interviews, medical record review, scene response, toxicology, autopsy, and inquests.
In November 2017, Dr. Christina VandePol was one of the Democratic candidates who swept the four Chester County row offices on the ballot that year. The first Democrat and first woman elected as Coroner, Dr. VandePol’s goal was “a Chester County Coroner’s Office that is accountable, ethical and engaged in the community.” Having largely achieved that goal, she has decided not to seek reelection for another 4-year term and strongly endorses Sophia Garcia-Jackson as her successor.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CORONER’S OFFICE since January 2018
Over 50 unclaimed cremains were interred in Philadelphia Memorial Park and honored in a memorial ceremony.
Dr. VandePol presented a needs assessment to the Commissioners for the need of a centralized and modern forensic facility.
The first ever mass fatality exercise was conducted to update the County’s 2012 plan.
Dr. VandePol became a member of the Overdose Prevention Task Force, obtained grants for enhanced toxicological testing, and increased grief support for those impacted by overdose deaths
For the first time, previous year’s Coroner records were archived with the Prothonotary in January, as required by law.
Pennsylvania established its first Maternal Mortality Review Committee; Dr. VandePol was appointed a member by Governor Wolf.
A well-attended and moving ceremony was held for unclaimed veterans at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery.
Social media postings, press releases, community presentations, and an improved website kept the public informed of important health and safety information.
Internships and medical clerkships were expanded to provide career-building opportunities for college, grad school, and medical students.
The Coroner’s Office team did an outstanding job of continuing operations during the COVID19 global pandemic by moving to all-electronic death certificates and medical records access and working with community partners such as hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes.
Using CARES (pandemic) funding, the County was able to rapidly install a temporary morgue on County property in May to address pandemic restrictions on use of hospital morgue space.
Crime Lab Design, an internationally-known forensic center consulting firm, did a Forensic Center Needs Assessment, in response to Dr. VandePol’s stressing the need for a Forensic Facility.
At no cost to Chester County, death investigations were enhanced by establishing access to genetic testing, consultation with CDC scientists, and SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing.
The Coroner’s Office continues to advocate for action by the Commissioners on the building of a Forensic Facility.
Continued efforts to work effectively during the COVID pandemic and an increased non-COVID caseload.
MORE ABOUT SOPHIA GARCIA-JACKSON
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine 08/2010 to 07/2012
Graduated M.S. program in Forensic Medicine
California State University, Chico, 08/2007 to 05/2010
• Major: Anthropology
• Certificate: Forensic Identification
• Minor: Nutrition
Chester County Coroner’s Office – Chief Deputy Coroner 03/14/2020 to present
• Same duties as the First Deputy Coroner (below)
• Manage the Coroner Office budget — understanding the budget in detail and ensure transparency; planning, revenue and expenditures, submitting quarterly reports
• Certify death certificates with cause and manner for cases after review of the Autopsy and Toxicology Reports
• Hiring and training of all aspects of the office: Administration, Investigation and Transportation
• Work closely with the Coroner and handle all tasks in their place as needed
Chester County Coroner’s Office- First Deputy Coroner 04/01/2019 to 03/14/2020
• Supervisor on Duty- Provided 24/7 assistance telephonically and physically to the on-call Investigator and Transporter
• Supervised investigators on cases and scene responses providing guidance as necessary on policies and procedures
• Delegated tasks to the investigator team for completion of cases as related to further points of investigation, medical follow up, family correspondence and law enforcement cooperation.
• Worked as an investigator or transporter when necessary to fill in gaps in the schedule or during busy periods of time.
• Provided autopsy and toxicology assistance to the Forensic Pathologist and Forensic Autopsy Technician, when needed (photo: working on an archaeological excavation site).
• Assisted in the hiring process of employees in the Coroner’s Office.
• Reviewed, revised and approved schedules for both transports and investigators of the office.
• Finalized, reviewed and closed all cases in the case management system after peer review.
• Performed hands-on training for all new hire investigators and transporters.
• Assessed the performance of current employees to determine internal training refreshers, suggest external training opportunities and provide written performance reviews to the Coroner.
• Reviewed and approved cremation authorizations.
• Supervised, trained and prepared investigators to take the ABMDI exam.
• Certified death certificates with cause and manner for cases after medical record review.
• Creating a Chester County Coroner’s Office training manual for death investigations.
• Provided leadership in the office and community included:
• Identified and put in place a process to use staff with appropriate skills to handle toxicology reports, autopsy reports and drug death reports rather than office staff.
• Identified and corrected an excessive and unnecessary use of Coroner and county resources for “unwitnessed” deaths. Change lead to a memo being sent out to Chiefs of Police with the office policy clarification.
• Analyzed staff responsibilities and reassigned work to better align tasks with appropriate resources in office responsibilities to streamline office operations and resolve a Key-Person Dependency risk.
• Developed, revised, and recommended guidelines, policies and procedures for the Coroner Office.
• Coordinated training sessions to be performed with all Chester County Hospitals, Hospice and Extended Care Facilities to ensure the proper cases are being reported to the Coroner Office.
• Represented the office and attended quarterly meetings for the CCDOH Child Death Review Team.
• Attend Child Fatality Review Team Meetings scheduled for suspected child abuse cases associated with the Coroner Office.
• Attend Sunshine Meetings and Chester County Police Chiefs Association functions to build relationships with law enforcement and County Officials.
• Represented the office and attended Elder Abuse Task Force quarterly meetings.
• Attended quarterly Chester County Healthcare Emergency Planning Coalition meetings.
• Member of the Forensic Facility Planning Committee, attended scheduled meetings and provided feedback.
• Attended and participated in table top exercises with various law enforcement agencies and community response exercises to incorporate Coroner Office involvement in mass casualty and mass fatality planning.
• Actively developing the Chester County Coroner Office Mass Fatality Plan in conjunction with the Chester County Department of Emergency Services.
• Developed the Chester County Coroner Office Continuity of Operations Plan Annex to the County’s COOP plan in conjunction with the Chester County Department of Emergency Services.
• Represented and presented information about the Coroner’s Office during community outreach functions such as Mock Crash Scenes, High School presentations and showcased a non-human remains exhibit at the First Annual Coroner’s Public Information Meeting Session
• Started planning the Coroner’s upcoming identification seminar, cancelled due to the pandemic.
• Actively attended internal training sessions with the office manager to ensure continuation of operations upon their retirement, becoming competent in all aspects of office procedures and mitigating a Key-Person Dependency risk.
• Trained with the office manager to be competent in all aspects of the Coroner Office Budget.
Southern Regional Medical Examiner Office 06/20/2013 to 03/15/2019
• Medicolegal Death Investigator: Work in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland County in New Jersey to determine accepted medical examiner cases
• Release cases that do not meet medical examiner criteria after speaking with the decedent’s primary care physician, family, law enforcement agencies and hospital staff to obtain relevant information
• Work with local hospitals on accepted cases to obtain relevant information, including speaking with hospital staff, decedent’s family, primary care physicians and arranging transportation of decedent to the medical examiner morgue facility
• Work with local law enforcement agencies on accepted cases at potential crime scenes to obtain relevant information about the decedent, photograph the scene, collect medication, collect personal property/evidence and maintain chain of custody, gather medical/social history, take custody of the decedent and arrange transportation
• Assist family members explaining ME protocol, help with any questions regarding their loved ones at all stages of the process
• Correspond with funeral homes arranging transport; provide information to complete death certificates
• Collaborate with law enforcement agencies on new or existing cases
• Experienced cross training and learned the tasks/duties of a morgue technician, 2014
• Assisted with data mapping of MECMS to the CMS system
• Aided the records department with locating and preparing autopsy/external view reports to send to agencies and families
• Respond to subpoenas in conjunction with the Deputy Attorney General and/or Assistant Attorney General
• Report indigents to their proper County Adjuster’s Office for burial/cremation
• Assisted with training new hires and cross training morgue technicians as investigators
• Assisted with corrections, suggestions to standard operating procedures and helped to create a new GOP
• Answer phones to assist all types of callers with any questions related to the medical examiner office
Philadelphia Medical Examiner Office 05/14/2012 to 06/01/2012
• Observed the day-to-day activities of a fast-paced medical examiner office
• Worked as an intern observing the process of autopsies
• Helped autopsy technicians when needed
• Accompanied forensic investigators on crime scene investigations
• Observed incoming phone calls by the forensic investigators and listened while they determined whether a death came under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner and when it did how they investigated the circumstances surrounding the death such as the identification of the decedent and determining the next of kin
• Observed the forensic technicians during the intake and release of decedents
• Worked with the forensic pathologists while they determined both the cause and manner of death in every case that came under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner
• Assisted the pathologists with weighing, cutting and examining the organs
• Sat in on the rounds given by the Chief Medical Examiner while he discussed with the other pathologists and staff the outcome of the day’s post-mortem autopsies/external examinations
• Accompanied and assisted as a body double to the pathologist while they provided their expert testimony in a court proceeding
Human Identification Lab at California State University, Chico 01/2010 to 05/2010
• Worked as an intern processing human and animal remains
• Catalogued animal skeletal remains for the Zooarchaeology Lab
• Assisted forensic anthropologists with the identification of human remains: including age, sex, race, stature determination
• Assisted my professor in teaching a continued education course for criminal investigators
• Made sure lab was up to health and OSHA standards
• Helped to maintain a healthy dermestid colony used for processing human and animal remains
Pennsylvania State Coroner’s Association: Continuing Education; 2019, 2020, 2021
47th Annual New England Seminar in Forensic Sciences, Colby College, Waterville, Maine, July 25-28, 2021
National Transportation Safety Board, Transportation Accident Investigations: NTSB and FAA Interface with Medicolegal Authorities, November 18, 2020
Pennsylvania Coroner’s Education Board, PA Coroner’s Basic Education Course: Certificate of Attendance-December 9-14, 2019; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Member since December, 2019, of the International Association of Coroners & Medical Examiners (IACME)
Diplomate of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI): Certification obtained September 05, 2017
Pennsylvania State Coroner’s Association: 2020 Death Investigation Educational Webinar, 8 hours, Sept. 29-30, 2020
Approved to sit for the next level of ABMDI Fellowship, Sept. 2021