Modern Death Investigation:
Pennsylvania State Coroner's Basic Education Course

Course Directors: Dennis C. Dirkmaat, Ph.D., D-ABFA; and Joe Adserias-Garriga, DDS, Ph.D., D-ABFO

For a full list of instructors, please click

Mercyhurst University and HD Forensics is presenting the 2021 Pennsylvania Coroner’s Basic Education Course at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania from 13 to 18 December. This 32 hours course provides the Basic Education which all newly elected coroners are required to attend prior to assuming office.  Chief deputies and full-time deputies are required to attend the Basic Education Course within six months of appointment.  The Board also authorizes courses as acceptable for fulfillment of the eight credit hours of continuing education required annually of all coroners and full-time deputies. 

Syllabus available here

For those interested in receiving their Basic Education requirement: Register for the full course

For those interested in receiving 8-hr of Continuing Education: Register for one day of the course

December 13-18, 2021

Course Options:

32-hr - 6 Day Course

8-hr - 1 Day Course

PA Coroners Course 2021_Pic.png

Address of Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex:

2300 N. Cameron St.,

Harrisburg, PA 17110

For more information on the Complex, including lodging, food, etc., please click here

Brief Descriptions of the Daily Topics and Speakers

Monday, Dec 13. 

The first day of the course will include a brief history of the coroner’s office in the US by Dr. Dirkmaat. Chuck Keissling, longtime coroner of Lycoming County will discuss typical roles and duties of the PA coroner’s office. Susan Shanaman, solicitor for the PA Coroners Association will discuss PA State Laws relevant and specific to PA Coroners offices. New PA Coroners Association president Scott Lynn will provide an overview of the typical types of cases a PA Coroner may be expected to encounter. Special guest John Fudenburg, retired coroner of Clark County in Nevada will discuss the Las Vegas MGM Shooting of 2017. He will also detail how to acquire ACME accreditation for your office. Reception Meet-and-Greet at 7:00pm

Tuesday, Dec 14. 

On the second day, common cases investigated by the coroner’s office including Fatal motor vehicle accidents, Drug deaths, and how to fill out the PA Death Certificate, will be presented by Pam Gay, York County Coroner. The second half of the day will cover the documentation of the indoor crime scene by Corp. Christine Lench, PSP (ret), Michael Hochrein, Special Agent FBI (ret) and Tpr. C. Todd Jester, Ohio Highway Patrol (ret.). They will discuss the role of law enforcement in the investigation of the indoor crime and death scene. A hands-on discussion of techniques employed to process the indoor scene will be presented via an elaborate mock scene, at the end of the day.

Wednesday, Dec 15. 

This day will focus on how to deal with the outdoor scene involving a deceased human(s) including surface-scattered cases, buried body features, fatal fire scenes, and mass disaster incidents. Dirkmaat, and Hochrein will discuss a number of interesting cases. Dr. Sorkin will Zoom in from the American Museum of Natural History, NYC with a discussion of forensic entomology. Dirkmaat will describe the United Flight 93 and Colgan Air 3407 (Buffalo, NY) crashes. Dr. Adserias will detail victim identification procedures. The day will end with a discussion of the role of the NTSB in the mass disaster incidents presented by Elias Kontanis of the NTSB.

Thursday, Dec. 16.

Day 4 will focus on the determination of cause of death and the evidence collected and interpretations provided during the forensic autopsy. Drs. Johnson and Mazuchowski will provide a comprehensive discussion of common as well as unusual postmortem findings. Determination of postmortem interval and traumatic impacts to the body (blunt force, sharp force and ballistics trauma). 

Friday, Dec. 17. 

Methods for the forensic identification of the victim will be detailed on Friday. Arthur Young will discuss DNA, Dr. Adserias forensic odontology, and Dirkmaat, forensic osteology including determination of forensic significance (human vs non-human). John Ackerman will discuss the role of cadaver dogs in forensic searches and will include a demonstration with a real live cadaver dog. Jeff Conner, Franklin County Coroner will discuss interesting and unusual forensic cases he has encountered.

Saturday, Dec 18.

Coroner Conner will discuss how to prepare for the court appearance and how to deal with the mental health strains of the office. A quick review will then lead to the course examination.

Course Registration Options