February 12, 1995 in Nation/World

Father’s Diligence Uncovers Coroner’s Carelessness Evidence That Coroner Was Either Sloppy Or Negligent For Decades Is Uncovered After Woman’s Death Is Ruled Murder

Thomas J. Sheeran Associated Press

Ray Callihan never stopped believing his daughter was murdered. Not even after the coroner blamed her death on booze and pills.

And every day for 17 years, he visited her grave. “I kept making her that promise: `Honey, Daddy’s going to work on it again tomorrow,”’ he said.

Last month, police charged Sharon Callihan Brain’s former boyfriend with strangling her.

After months of work by the Tribune Chronicle of Warren, authorities said Brain’s death may have been only one of dozens in which former Trumbull County Coroner Joseph A. Sudimack Jr. missed obvious clues to the cause of death.

The sheriff’s department and current Coroner Theodore Soboslay are reviewing cases, looking for other suspicious deaths during Sudimack’s 26-year tenure.

Among Sudimack’s rulings:

Suicide, by a man who was run over with a bulldozer and shot.

Suicide, by an inmate found hanged on his knees with toilet paper stuffed in his mouth.

Death by carbon monoxide poisoning from a lawn mower, even though the lawn mower didn’t work.

Death by carbon monoxide poisoning, although no carbon monoxide was found in the person’s blood.

Soboslay said it will take years to review the more than 1,800 cases Sudimack handled.

Dr. Harry Bonnell, a medical examiner in San Diego who reviewed dozens of Sudimack’s cases at the request of the newspaper, said Sudimack was either negligent or incompetent.

“This is basically somebody who blatantly did not do his job,” Bonnell told the newspaper. “His job is to investigate and determine the cause of death, not the best guess or what he felt that day.”

Sudimack, coroner from 1961 to 1987, has refused to discuss any of his cases and has said only that budget restrictions hampered his ability to investigate some of them.

Sudimack, 66, recently announced he is resigning as chief medical consultant for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. He was president of the Ohio State Medical Association in 1991.

Authorities had Brain’s body exhumed after Callihan took his suspicions to the Tribune Chronicle last year. A pathologist determined she had been strangled.

Robert Burns, 38, of the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg, pleaded innocent to murder.

Callihan’s daughter, a 20-year-old divorcee with a 3-year-old son, was found dead on Aug. 28, 1978, in a field about seven miles from her home in nearby Niles.

Her family wondered why Sudimack never performed an autopsy, or examined suspicious marks on Brain’s neck.

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