Grim to help stop vi­o­lent deaths

He’s tak­ing po­si­tion cre­ated in the state Health Depart­ment.

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Lehman

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

emo­tions aside.

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.


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