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Woman gone but flowers remain

BY JORDAN HANSON
DCN Correspondent

Walking through Incarnation Cemetery in Roseville, Minn., I was looking for something special.

After a couple minutes, I came across a tombstone that caught my attention. It was the middle of winter, near 10 below, and there were flowers at the foot of her grave.

The grave was marked “Jennifer L. Baker 1972 – 1995.? Some super-quick math skills helped me determine that she had died at age 23. The young age of death, combined with the flowers, led me to believe that this dearly departed soul was going to be the most interesting.

The first good piece of information on Jennifer came from a Lexis Nexis search under her name of major newspapers of the year she died. From this search I was able to obtain her obituary. The obituary told me that she was from White Bear township, that she had died on Oct. 15th, the names of all her surviving family members, and that her death was accidental. The most important information, it turned out, was the listing for the funeral home at which her service was held.

I contacted the Holcomb-Henry-Boom North Chapel in Shoreview, Minn. They were able to pull up a computer file on Jennifer and tell me over the phone her date of birth (April 9th, 1972), her middle name (Lee), and that her medical examiner’s report listed her death as the result of a car accident.

Naturally, my next move was to call the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office. I asked them for information on their report for Jennifer Lee Baker and the woman found the file for me. However, just as she was about to give me the information she conveniently remembered to ask me if I was the next of kin. I told her I wanted the information for research and she told me it was private except to the next of kin.

I then tried to dig up more on Jennifer by calling the Minnesota Historical Society and asking them for their records. They served mainly as a means of confirming the information I already had. However, it did provide me with new information like her state of birth (Minnesota), her mother’s maiden name (Bentley), and the county her death took place in (Ramsey County).

I really wanted more information about her death specifically and I was thinking about how lame it was that I couldn’t get that medical examiner’s report. I told professor Chris Julin that I was denied it because it was private information. He thought that was weird also so he did a little research for me. We found a statute in the Minnesota Data Practices Act that stated that medical examiner’s reports were completely PUBLIC information unless otherwise requested by the family of the deceased.

So, ready for a vocal rumble, I called the examiner’s office back. Using my best big-time journalist voice, I told them that under the Minnesota Data Practices Act Section 13.83 they were required to give me the information on the report. The receptionist, without missing a beat, calmly and confident then explained to me that yes, this was true, but there is a Ramsey County statute stipulation that makes an autopsy report private until at least 30 years after the death, except to the next of kin. I have no idea if this was true or not, but she said it with such confidence that I chose to believe her. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain the information.

The last source I contacted was the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department to see if they had an accident report. They were able to tell me that on Oct. 14 (note the difference of death and accident date) Jennifer Lee Baker was involved in a fatal accident that occurred in the city of North Oaks, Minn.

My research on Jennifer led me to conclude that her death was a very painful and tragic one. This information and the flowers on her snowy grave lead me to believe that her family members are still feeling the sting of her demise. May she rest in peace.



This biographical sketch was written for the Research for Reporters class at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Each student in the class went to a cemetery in Duluth, got a name from a grave marker, and then used a variety of primary and secondary sources to find out as much as possible about the person.


Comments

...good job, but the name is Jordan Hanson... no relation.