POR: Steve Stogsdill March 15, 2009
“You do your job and it may be tearing you up inside, but you have to be professional."
For most of us, we’ll probably never meet Steve Stogsdill unless it’s one of the worst days of our life, when a loved one dies.
This fact isn’t lost on Stogsdill, chief investigator at the Mesa County Coroner’s Office.
It’s also one of the reasons why the hefty, 6-foot-something man with pale-blue eyes usually speaks in a soothing voice and carefully chooses his words, making sure he’s always compassionate.
“I’ve seen that man get down on his knees on cement floors to be on the same level as a victim,” said Lauri Skala, coordinator of victim and volunteer service at Mesa County Sheriff’s Department. “It absolutely brought me to tears. He’s really a teddy bear.”
Stogsdill is actually always on call, because people die at all hours of the day. He is often paged by law enforcement to determine whether a person’s death is suspicious and warrants investigation. Staff at the coroner’s office investigated 475 deaths in Mesa County last year.
Sometimes an investigation can include a quick phone call to a health-care provider; at others, staff, including the coroner and forensic pathologist Dean Havlik, and forensic pathologist Robert Kurtzman, perform autopsies to determine the cause and manner of death. One of
Stogsdill’s duties is to personally deliver the news to a family’s next of kin that their loved one has died.
Sometimes, upon hearing the news, people don’t believe him or simply stare back in shock.
Stogsdill’s been slapped and sometimes people collapse. And, occasionally, especially if the death was expected, family members have been known to launch into humorous anecdotes of the deceased.
“You have good days — That’s when your pager doesn’t go off,” Stogsdill said recently over coffee. “You have bad days and you have really rotten days. There’s no easy way to talk about death. You can’t sugarcoat it, you can’t wear rose-colored glasses. It affects me but not as much as the family that just learned a loved one died. ”
Stogsdill has worked in law enforcement since 1979, when he started working as a jailer at the Mesa County Jail.
“It was the best way to move into law enforcement,” he said.
In a little more than a decade Stogsdill moved from being a lead narcotics investigator to lead crime scene and homicide investigator at the department.
Stogsdill started his own investigations consulting business in 1996 and became an instructor and assistant director at the Colorado Institute of Law Enforcement Training. The next year, after serving a year as a reserve police officer for the town of Palisade, Stogsdill served as a sergeant on the force until 2002. After a knee injury, Stogsdill took a position as a deputy coroner.
Skala said Stogsdill has long been an advocate for victims, teaching victim advocate volunteers to be perceptive, listen and remember that “what works with one survivor won’t work with all survivors.”
“The thing that endears me to him is he so protective of the survivors,” Skala said. “That’s because he has that heart. We’ve had other people in and out of that job — for others it was obvious they were there for a paycheck. If he weren’t working for the coroner’s office, I’d be recruiting him to be an advocate.”
With three decades invested in the law enforcement realm, Stogsdill said working deaths is like solving a puzzle that can help provide answers to family members riddled with questions about a death. Though Stogsdill is there in the moment with families at their toughest hour, he tries to slough off the continuing heartache in order to carry on.
“I meet a lot of families, I meet a lot of people. If you see me and say hi, don’t be offended if I don’t say hi back,” he said.
Of his work, Stogsdill said, “If it gets to where it doesn’t bother you, you have to find a new job.
You have to be sensitive to each case.”