Grim to help stop violent deaths
He’s taking position created in the state Health Department.
Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim, who announced his retirement Thursday after nearly three decades, will take a new position with the Pennsylvania Department of Health investigating violent deaths.
Grim, 59, said his last day will be Feb. 28. He said his replacement will be announced at a later date. His four-year term as coroner, an elected position, ends Dec. 31. The county board of commissioners will have 45 days to appoint an interim replacement to serve out the remainder of Grim’s term, according to Edward Hozza Jr., the county’s director of administration. The home rule charter requires the appointee come from the same political party as the person being replaced — in this case, a Democrat.
Grim said he will soon begin work as a public health program administrator with the state’s violent death reporting system. It’s a position that will allow him to work with district attorneys, law enforcement officials and coroners across the state to help track and develop programs to reduce those deaths.
Grim’s newly created position, along with the state’s violent death reporting system, will “create the most comprehensive picture of violent deaths in Pennsylvania,” according to Nate Wardle, spokesman for the Department of Health.
The goal of the position is to reduce violent deaths.
Grim will be involved in developing data-sharing partnerships with law enforcement officers, reviewing and analyzing violent death data, and entering that data in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web-based system, which will ensure that the state’s violent death data are accurately represented in national data sets, Wardle said.
This position is a contract position funded by the CDC, which increased funding to the state in 2018 to help ensure the position was filled, Wardle said.
The salary and start date has not yet been established, he said.
Grim took over as coroner in 1997 after the resignation of Wayne Snyder. Grim won a special election that year and has been coroner ever since.
The Lehigh County coroner's office handled 2,340 death investigations in Grim's first year compared with more than 6,500 deaths in 2018.
Grim said one of his greatest accomplishments is the move in 2014 to a facility in South Whitehall Township where all autopsies and forensic investigations are conducted. The facility not only includes the equipment necessary to investigate thousands of deaths each year, but a “stellar staff” that Grim said is essential.
“It's a team that when they get together day in and day out, they help bring closure to grieving families,” Grim said.
Those death investigations will stay with Grim, he said. For days on end, Grim was with investigators sifting through human remains and smoldering car parts after a Sept. 29 car explosion in Allentown that claimed three lives.
Grim, who for several days essentially worked sunrise to sunset, never faltered in front of the media during a parade of news conferences about the blast. But several days after the explosion, which authorities say was deliberately triggered by 26-year-old Jacob Schmoyer, Grim could no longer put his
“Most would never realize how much he dedicated himself and how very hard he worked to honor the dead and protect the living.” — Allentown Health Bureau Director Vicky Kistler
He cried while describing workers on their hands and knees sifting through garbage in the street to ensure that every bit of evidence was found and the remains properly identified.
Grim also pushed for awareness of the rise in opioid-related deaths and increases in suicides, calling for officials to work together to help document and prevent the deaths.
Allentown Health Bureau Director Vicky Kistler worked for years with Grim and said his dedication to serving the public is unmatched.
Grim helped call attention to a spate of suicides at the Eighth Street Bridge in Allentown, prompting the state Department of Transportation to install a 3-foot-tall metal fence atop both sides of the historic bridge. Since the fence was installed, Grim said, the suicides and attempts from the bridge ground to a halt.
Grim also helped train volunteers and staff in mass fatality events and was a member of the heroin/opioid task force, Kistler said.
“Most would never realize how much he dedicated himself and how very hard he worked to honor the dead and protect the living,” Kistler said.
Grim is a past president of the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners and the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association. He is still on committees with both organizations.
In his new position with the state, Grim will “assist in enhancing and expanding the participation in the state's violent death reporting system,” Wardle said.
“It is important that law enforcement and coroners/ medical examiners participate in this system to share critical information about the violent deaths in their jurisdiction,” he said. “The position will also conduct outreach to nontraditional public health partners, such as district attorneys, police chiefs and others to highlight the importance of the [Pennsylvania Violent Death Reporting System] and recruit them to provide data.”
Wardle said the comprehensive picture of violent deaths in Pennsylvania will include details of what was happening in a person's life before their death, and that data will be used in work across the state to support prevention and intervention efforts to help save lives.