High Country Character: Eagle’s Kara Bettis
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado ” In a job where viewing and investigating dead bodies is the daily grind, you may not expect Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis to say she relies most on people that are alive and well.
That’s because the coroner is an elected position.
“People vote for you before they die, hoping that when they do, you’ll figure out why,” she said.
Bettis doesn’t take her job or the subject of death lightly. She’s on her second term as the county’s coroner and she doesn’t foresee leaving the post until the voters dictate it, she said.
The Eagle resident and proud mother of two loves her job ” even if it does mean being called out to a scene in the middle of the night or delivering bad news to a parent or loved one. There’s a payoff, she said, in helping a grieving family find answers.
Vail Daily: The obvious question is, what got you into this profession?
Kara Bettis: When I was in college, forensics was just starting. My boyfriend at the time (now her husband), he was in a class and he was the one who told me I’d be interested. I’m more into that death investigation stuff.
VD: Why is it about the job that you enjoy?
KB: What I enjoy about the job is helping families, helping them understand why their loved one died ” hopefully preventing them from dying the same way. That’s the reward of the job. The part that does intrigue me is the investigation part of it. When somebody passes away, they do leave clues. They can’t tell you, but they do give you hints. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not.”
VD: What’s the scope of what you do?
KB: 24/7 I’m on call. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. I work with the body and the evidence on the body. I hire a forensic pathologist to do the autopsy … and I determine the cause of death. I work with ambulance, fire, CBI, the sheriff’s office, police. I’m interested in what the police find and they’re interested in what I find. It’s always a team.
VD: What’s the most interesting case you’ve worked on?
KB: The one where a man who drove up to Red Cliff and drove off a cliff and landed on a rock. And then he got out and there were footprints walking away and he fell off another cliff. It was dark out when it happened. We couldn’t determine if it was an accident of suicide. The autopsy shows he fell of a cliff, but who knows why.
VD: What’s the most common causes of death in Eagle County that you’ve seen?
KB: There’s a lot of suicides up here. And there’s a lot of heart-related deaths.
VD: There’s some pretty well-known people around this area. Ever done an autopsy on somebody famous or well-known?
KB: The only famous person I ever had was Clint Eastwood’s daughter’s boyfriend. He had a seizure and died skiing in Vail. I had Entertainment Tonight calling me. I never had so many phone calls.
VD: How do you prepare yourself to go to work each day knowing that you’ll be dealing with bad news?
KB: I remember going to my first infant death. I was eight months pregnant and the baby (that died) was eight months old. It was hard. I just said, ‘I have to do my job, I have to be professional.’ The more I’ve been in the business, the more I’ve gotten used to it. What I prepare myself for is for children and infant deaths. There’s no way to prepare yourself, though, because you know it’s going to be difficult.
VD: Does your job impact your view on life and mortality?
KB: Definitely. You view life differently. You realize how precious life is, the day-to-day things, because you know it can be gone so quick. It affects my whole life. That hard thing is it brings a lot of anxiety because I always think the worst ” because I always see the worst. I don’t see the people who made it through.
Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or email@example.com.