ANDERSON – A couple whose son died June 10 appeared Tuesday before the Madison County Council to complain about their treatment by the coroner’s office.
After the council meeting, Madison County Coroner Dr. Troy Abbott announced that his office would change its policy about families viewing the deceased.
Vicky Ashby said she was treated without compassion by Deputy Coroner Katherine Callahan at the scene of the death of her son, Korey Fowler.
Ashby said Callahan would not wait to transport her son’s body until his father, who was en route, arrived at the scene. Ashby said she was allowed to spend time with her son along with an aunt for a few minutes.
“We were told, ‘You visited long enough,’” she told the council. She also wrote a letter to the council.
Ashby said they were waiting outside the residence on a porch when her son’s body was removed in a body bag.
“My son was a recovering drug addict,” she said. “He died of diabetes. They treated it like my son died of an overdose. I want to make sure no one is ever treated this way again.”
Ashby said she worked for many years in health care and dealt with the coroner’s office in the past.
“I’ve never known them (coroner’s office representatives) to treat anyone like that,” she said. “They had tremendous compassion.”
Pam Ashby, Vicki’s wife, said Korey was her stepson, and she knew him for 31 years.
Pam Ashby said at first she was not allowed to visit her son but was then given several minutes alone.
“I don’t understand any of that,” she said. “Maybe she (Callahan) didn’t like our lifestyle. I feel we were discriminated against.”
Callahan said Thursday the accusations made by the family were not true and said Dr. Abbott and she were not given the opportunity to speak at the council meeting.
She said Vicki and Pam Ashby, along with a relative, were allowed to view Korey together.
“I asked them to step back off the porch so we could remove the body, and they would not move,” Callahan said.
Callahan said numerous emergency vehicles were blocking Columbus Avenue, and the body was removed rapidly to prevent a safety hazard on the street.
She did call to apologize to the family for leaving the scene but denied ever mentioning that people show up at the scene with weapons and offered to meet the family at the morgue.
Callahan said the family filed no complaint with the coroner’s office.
“Why didn’t anyone from the County Council reach out to us about the letters or ask us to speak,” she said.
Callahan said the coroner’s office has never seen the letters presented to the County Council.
“I’m sorry for their loss,” she said. “To say I lacked compassion when I deal with people through death is my job.”
After the two women addressed the council, Abbott and Callahan, who were both in attendance, did not comment. However, Abbott provided a written statement after the meeting, announcing that his office would adopt a new standard operating procedure to be used by law enforcement in the county.
“Instead of attempting to make allowances for families by letting them spend a moment or two with a loved one at the scene of death and take the chance of compromising an investigation, we will have loved ones wait until the conclusion of our initial investigation to mourn privately with the deceased,” Abbott wrote.
“Once a death investigation is initiated, and a positive identification is made, family members will be required to wait until the body has been released to the funeral home of their choice to view their loved one,” he continued.
In his statement, Abbott lamented that the complaint had been lodged with the County Council.
“I am sorry that they did not feel comfortable enough to bring their concerns to my office directly,” he wrote.
Abbott expressed his condolences to the family in the statement.
In her letter to the council, Vicki Ashby said Callahan called her the night of her son’s death to apologize for her behavior.
According to Ashby, Callahan excused her behavior by saying that some people “show up with guns” at death scenes.
“An apology accompanied by an excuse is not an apology,” Vicki Ashby wrote. “I told her that I will remember how I was treated on that most horrible day for the rest of my life.”