Courts & Crime

Murdered kids overwhelm Fresno coroner

The Fresno County Coroner's Office lacks resources needed to raise awareness about preventable child homicides, according to a report presented to supervisors Tuesday.

As part of a study of child homicides, students at Alliant International University in Fresno examined the Pediatric Death Review Committee, which issues reports on the cause of child deaths under the direction of the coroner.

Coroner David Hadden conceded that he has lost a number of employees in recent years, but maintained that the committee has continued to identify causes of child deaths.

The students at Alliant University, a professional school, were guided in their research by the Interagency Council for Children and Families, made up of a wide range of government and nonprofit agencies working with young people.

Lea Kovaciss, a student who is leading the review, said the goal is to better identify child deaths that could be prevented by government agencies. Kovaciss also works as an intern for Supervisor Henry Perea, who asked her to present her findings. Her internship isn't connected to her research.

Perea has been critical of the county's handling of child welfare cases with fatal endings, including last year's death of Seth Ireland, a 10-year-old Fresno boy who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend.

The Alliant report examined coroner records from 2003 to 2009, and found that 39 children died from homicide in that period.

Younger children tended to die from abuse, while older children were killed by weapons, Kovaciss said. Eleven victims were killed by blunt-force trauma, compared to 20 by gunshot wounds in the last six years. The rest were killed through other means or the precise cause of death could not be determined.

The review also found that the area with the highest number of child homicides was in southeast Fresno -- the 93702 ZIP code, where 10 children were killed by homicide.

Kovaciss said she and other students will continue the study, trying to better pinpoint the causes of child deaths, and the roles government agencies have played in those deaths.

Hadden said that under state law death review panels must be headed by coroner's offices. He said he has lost three deputy coroners, two office assistants, and a secretary in recent years, limiting the work his office can do.

He said it's up to the various agencies that are involved in death reviews to use the information for prevention efforts.

Esther Franco, executive director of the Fresno Council on Child Abuse, said the coroner's office has lacked the resources needed to send written reports to the state after the reviews were completed.

Read the full story at the Fresno Bee.