Family still waiting for death certificate 4 months after KCK crash

Posted at 11:05 PM, Dec 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-05 00:05:53-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — More than four months after Patrick Stokes was killed in Kansas City, Kansas, his family tells 41 Action News they are in limbo — still waiting for the state to issue the official certificate listing the cause of his death.

Without an official death certificate, they "cannot get closure."

"We went through the process of the funeral and the memorial service and brought his remains home," said his brother-in-law Rick Duhaime. "Without the death certificate, a family cannot move on."

Stokes died on July 23, 2017.

According to the Kansas Turnpike Authority, the semi-trailer he was riding in for an unknown reason hit a guardrail and slammed into a bridge pillar. The cab of the semi dangled over an overpass and immediately caught fire. The turnpike authority, at the time, told 41 Action News Stokes and the driver jumped out of the cab and landed on I-635 below.

Stokes died a short time later.

"We are searching for what, we are searching for closure," said Duhaime.

The accident was more than four months ago but Duhaime said the family is still unable to get Stokes' official death certificate, the crucial document needed to process life insurance claims and settle estates, among other things.

41 Action News took a closer look at state statutes involving death certificates.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, if a person dies of natural causes the death certificate should be issued within three days. If a person dies of unnatural causes, such as an accident or a shooting, there is no time limit. Although, the state requests coroners complete the death certificate within six months.

In Wyandotte County, the county coroner's office does not perform the autopsy. Instead, the county uses the services of Frontier Forensics in Kansas City, Kansas. Both the coroner's office and Frontier Forensics told 41 Action News, an autopsy report can take an average of 16 to 20 weeks to complete. This report is needed to determine the official cause of death.

The Wyandotte County Coroner's Office also told 41 Action News, they received the autopsy report on Monday and the Stokes' family should have the official death certificate soon.

"It's going to take forever for [my sister] to heal but as far as this part of it, we just want the death certificate. We don't want promises," said Duhaime.