County coroner combines science, psych

By Justin Gallagher

Dennis Miller sees dead people … a lot.

Last year, the DeKalb County Coroner’s office in Sycamore processed 475 cases. Miller, the coroner, is a very busy man.

Not only does he assist in autopsies, but he does all the requisite paperwork and coordinates with the police department, funeral home directors and toxicology labs.

While his primary function is to discern cause of death, he often finds himself doling out spiritual and psychological healing.

“Helping people with the difficult time in their lives” gives him satisfaction, and he has a stack of letters from victims’ families expressing their gratitude for his services.

“Sometimes I just sit and listen to them talk.”

When out of the office and in the morgue, the experience is much more clinical than popular culture portrays.

He despises the television show CSI, calling it a joke.

It is very rare when a body squirts fluid on him, and the process is deliberate, he said.

A body is examined externally, and once any distinguishing marks are catalogued, the inside is dissected, examined and weighed, organ by organ.

If the case calls for it, samples may be taken and sent to toxicology labs.

A careful procedure is necessary when dealing with cases that are not straight-forward.

He recalled two different cases in which one person was shot and another strangled just before their homes were set on fire.

An X-Ray found a bullet in one victim, while examination of tissue around the neck of the other proved more than just a fire was to blame.

“Nothing is taken for granted,” he said.

Helping the police solve cases such as those is another satisfaction the job gives him.

Unlike in other counties, there is a cooperative relationship between the Sycamore Police Department and the coroner.

Sheriff Roger Scott attributes this to a number of reasons.

Primarily, it is because they share the same goals, and to meet those, their efforts fit together like puzzle pieces.

Few cases cause him to take pause, but they do exist, he said. Sometimes science, in the face of mass death, is not enough to allay him of emotion.

Knocking on a parent’s door at 2 a.m. is always one of the hardest aspects of his job.

“You’re not supposed to bury your own children,” he said.