Tammy Daybell investigation: Idaho law allowed her burial without an autopsy
Garna Mejia, KSL TV
SALEM (KSL TV) — As investigations continue at Chad Daybell’s Salem property, officials say investigators were not required by state law to perform an autopsy after Tammy Daybell’s death.
Not only were the remains of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow buried on the property, but Tammy Daybell allegedly died while sleeping inside the home, and the circumstances surrounding her death are now under investigation.
Tammy’s death was sudden and unexpected, less than a month after detectives suspect Tylee and JJ were buried in the backyard.
Her funeral took place just three days after she died. However, officials ruled she died of natural causes, which is why an autopsy wasn’t performed.
“I just can’t help but think that I want to know what happened to Tammy,” Mandy Fowler, Daybell’s friend and co-worker, told KSL on June 11, shortly after the children’s remains were discovered in Chad Daybell’s backyard.
Tammy Daybell’s friends and family said she was healthy and training for a marathon before her sudden and unexpected death.
“What a complete waste of an amazing person. She truly was so awesome,” said Fowler, who worked with Daybell for about five years.
Multiple sources told KSL Chad Daybell declined to have an autopsy performed. Ultimately, the Fremont County coroner ruled her death of natural causes, according to her obituary.
“I actually went over to their house the morning after Tammy died,” said Matt Price, Tammy Daybell’s neighbor. “Chad didn’t seem to have any emotion, it was very odd.”
Tammy Daybell was buried in Springville, Utah, where she and Chad Daybell grew up.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office told KSL under Utah law, a case like Tammy Daybell’s would have been referred to the state medical examiner’s office.
“As the state code says, sudden death while in apparent good health is automatically something that is seen by the medical examiner in Utah,” Cannon said. “If I went to bed tonight and didn’t wake up tomorrow, that would be unusual, and in Utah that would be a medical examiner case simply because we don’t know why I died. I’m not expected to die.”
Cannon worked for eight years as a part-time investigator for the state medical examiner’s office, in addition to being a sheriff’s office deputy. Cannon said family members don’t get a say on whether an autopsy is performed.
“We let them down easy, but we tell them state law prevails here, and for the good of everybody, it has to,” Cannon said.
But in Idaho, there isn’t a state medical examiner’s office.
University of Idaho College of Law professor Samuel Newton said death investigations are handled by county coroners and they ultimately determine if an autopsy will be performed.
“The coroner may go and examine the scene and say, ‘Oh we don’t need one,’ but the statute does require the coroner to do the investigation and the autopsy would be up to the discretion of the coroner,” Newton said.
County coroners serve four-year term elected positions and are only required to attend a coroner’s school and complete 24 hours of additional training every two years, according to Idaho state statute.
In rural communities like Fremont County, this is a part-time job — and their resources are limited.
For example, Fremont County listed a budget of just over $37,000 including the coroner’s salary.
Neighboring Madison County listed about $20,000 for their budget.
In comparison, Ada County, where Boise is located, has a budget of just over $3 million.
Last December, deputies exhumed Daybell’s remains for an autopsy after determining her death was suspicious.
Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow have been linked to the investigation.
“That’s what my mind keeps focusing on, I want justice for her,” Fowler shared.
Fremont County’s coroner is Brenda Dye. Her full-time job is as an EMT. KSL made several attempts to contact her and the Fremont County commissioners but did not receive a response.