'Is he dead?': Lexington mother advocates for death notification reform after traumatizing experience

Posted at 7:36 PM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 10:19:30-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A grieving Lexington mother is fighting for change in the way the coroner's office delivers death notifications.

It happened on Stacey Burnett's porch on March 30, 2021.

A man from the Fayette County Coroner's Office walked up to Stacey and handed her this note:

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It listed the number of a local sheriff's office in Utah where her son, Nathan, was on a snowboarding trip during spring break.

It also listed Stacy and her husband's name, although her name and their last name were spelled incorrectly.

Stacey's attention, however, was on the bottom of the note, which listed her son's name and date of birth.

"Immediately we just started asking is he dead? Is he dead?" she recalled. "Because it's a coroner. And he basically just said I don't have any details. I don't know anything."

She was told to call the number for the sheriff's office on the note.

With no other information, she and her husband, John, were terrified and confused.

"It threw us into shock immediately," she said. "I just started screaming on the front lawn."

Soon after, the man from the coroner's office left and John called the phone number.

That's when they learned their 18-year-old son was dead. He had crashed into a tree while snowboarding.

"They said he died instantly," Stacey said. "He doesn't think he suffered. Even just hearing that made us feel so much better."

She said the man with the sheriff's office in Utah treated them with compassion and respect.

To make sure Kentucky coroners always do the same, a bill called "Nathan's Law" was introduced by state senator Ralph Alvarado.

"We think it's good to start putting a focus back that there's gotta be a proper way to do this," Alvarado said.

Alvarado said the bill came about after speaking with Stacey, and it was crafted with input from the Clark County Coroner's Office and the Kentucky Coroner's Association.

If passed into law, Nathan's Law would require:

  • Death notifications to be given verbally, in person, and respectfully.
  • Emergency medical assistance to be on standby
  • A second person present to assist
  • A follow up with a family member in 48 hours

Finally, it would also require a four-hour grief training course in order to receive monthly compensation.
For more details on Nathan's Law, or SB 66, click here.

"Hopefully in the future, future coroners will know the importance of delivering the message in the right way," Alvarado said.

Stacey is also on board with this legislation because she doesn't want another family to go through the same thing, especially since her experience is not unique.

On a Facebook page for grieving mothers who have lost their sons, she found other Kentucky moms who had a similar experience. She said one mother received a text about her son's death and another had a note pinned to her door telling her the news.

"If other families can find out something so terrible in a better way and in a way that's not so cold and disrespectful to the life of the person that had passed away, I'm hoping that it would help them," Stacey said.

The bill has been passed unanimously by the Senate. Next, it would need to be passed by the House of Representatives before heading to Governor Andy Beshear's desk.

LEX 18 reached out to the Fayette County Coroner's Office and did not receive a response prior to the publishing of this article.