11/07/2007 Will County Illinois Coroner Patrick O’Neil Statement
Regarding the 2004 inquest into the death of Kathleen Savio
PATRICK K. O’NEIL
Coroner of Will County, Illinois
November 7, 2007
Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil is releasing the following statement regarding the 2004 inquest into the death of Kathleen Savio:
My legal obligation as the coroner is to preside over inquests and to present testimony and evidence on all unnatural deaths to a coroner’s jury in a neutral fashion. This is exactly what I did while presiding over the inquest in the death of Kathleen Savio.
The six-member coroner’s jury heard testimony from police and reviewed toxicology, autopsy and police reports involving the investigation into Kathleen Savio’s death. In addition, the coroner’s jury heard concerns voiced by Kathleen Savio’s family members that they believed certain aspects of her death were suspicious.
After hearing all of the evidence, the coroner’s jury convened in private and ruled that the manner of Kathleen Savio’s death was an accident. The cause was listed as drowning.
Certain aspects of Kathleen Savio’s death raised concerns for me as well. In my professional opinion, having served at the time as the coroner for 14 years, it was my opinion that, at the very least, her death should have been ruled “undetermined.” The coroner’s jury, unfortunately, ruled otherwise.
At the time, I had every confidence the police agency that investigated her death would present its reports to the state’s attorney’s office for review. Sgt. Pat Collins of the Illinois State Police obtained the assistance of State’s Attorney’s Tomczak’s office on March 3, 2004 in his investigation. Any criminal charges that might have resulted against any individual would have been the responsibility of the former state’s attorney.
It must be noted that a state’s attorney’s office may file criminal charges in a case regardless of a ruling by a coroner’s jury that a death is accidental if the investigation warrants such charges.
Finally, a change in state law that took effect in January 2007 gave Illinois coroners the option of bypassing the jury process and ruling on the manner of death independently, based upon their professional review of the evidence in a death investigation. This option has enabled coroners to remove a great deal of uncertainty from the process. Had this option been available in 2004, the ruling in this case would have been different.