The Board of Supervisors today appointed Mark Fajardo to be the chief medical examiner-coroner of Los Angeles County. That job has a high-visibility past, of course. The story introducing him at Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's news website is even headlined "Meet our new 'coroner to the stars.'" Dr. Fajardo, who is 49 and a forensic pathologist in Riverside County, succeeds Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, whose name the media won't get to kick around any more. Fajardo grew up on the Eastside but had to move to Santa Maria after his father, an LA County deputy sheriff, was killed in a traffic accident when Fajardo was 12. Excerpt:
Marilyn Monroe’s death was investigated by the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner; so were Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s and Sharon Tate’s and Janis Joplin’s and John Belushi’s and Notorious B.I.G.’s and Michael Jackson’s and Whitney Houston’s and the paparazzo who died earlier this year trying to get a photo of Justin Bieber. So many high profile cases come through the department, in fact, that in some instances, they’ve boosted the coroner himself to star status. Between 1967 and 1982, Dr. Thomas T. Noguchi came to be known as the “coroner to the stars.”
“I haven’t had to interact with the press much at all, so this will be interesting,” says Fajardo, noting that he hopes to follow Sathyavagiswaran’s lead and delegate most of the media interaction to someone else in the department. Despite a nationally televised stint on the stand during the trial of O.J. Simpson, the current coroner came to be known less for his time in the spotlight than for his competence in rebuilding the department after Noguchi and his successor, Ronald Kornblum, left their jobs amid management lapses and critical audits.
Nonetheless, Fajardo says, when he visited the department, he and Sathyavagiswaran talked at length about the challenges of dealing with death, L.A.-style.
“He told me that you lose all privacy, that you might have any member of the press asking any question at any time, and that you have to be prepared to answer openly,” says Fajardo. “And we talked about the media’s involvement in the case of Michael Jackson. He said there was such a caravan of cameras and paparazzi that they had to utilize a helicopter just to get him from Point A to Point B.”