Longtime coroner Sonnenberg reflects on career

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Over his career, Ada County coroner Erwin Sonnenberg figures he's been involved in the investigation of some 30,000 deaths.

Many of those cases grabbed national attention including when an infant was decapitated by an airbag in a 1996 fender-bender -- the first time a child in the United States ever died in such a way.

"Medical examiners wanted to know the dynamics of why it happened," Sonnenberg said. "So we had to put it all together and explain exactly what took place."

The downtown Boise gun battle in 1997 in which brothers Craig and Doug Broderick died and Mark Stall became the first Boise Police officer killed in the line of duty.

"The police fired, I think 72 shots and the Broderick brothers got off 17, 19 shots," Sonnenberg said.

Sonnenberg has seen the coroner's office grow from just two full time employees to 17, including two forensic pathologists and a budget of more than $500,000.

He says the next coroner must be up to speed with the major advancements in forensic science and lab technology.

And Sonnenberg also says whoever takes office must posses the mental discipline to deal with ceaseless tragedy.

"When you're dealing with children and some of the sadness that's involved, I say we get good blocking skills of what's going on, which isn't always a good thing in your life but you have to develop that to get through."

Sonnenberg says while the office of coroner may seem a thankless job, his biggest reward has been helping families cope with the loss of a loved one.