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LA County Has A New 'Coroner To The Stars'

BOYLE HEIGHTS ( — Los Angeles County has a new chief medical examiner.

County Supervisors are calling Dr. Mark Fajardo the newest "Coroner to the Stars," a position with a history of handling the most notorious celebrity deaths, from Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood to Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

"I guess that would be an apt description, at least for part of the role that I serve, because of the celebrities that live in the area and the fact that they do die here in the county, and so we have to investigate their death like any other," said Dr. Fajardo.

The term 'Coroner to the Stars' was first coined in the days of Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who earned the nickname for his role in handling the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood.

Dr. Noguchi was let go in 1982 for speaking too freely, and the department was criticized for mismanagement in the 1990s. Among the cases that came under fire were the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Only the fourth chief since the 1960s, Dr. Fajardo said the department is once again on the right path, and he plans to continue to steer it in the right direction.

"My role as I see it, and my philosophy, is to be hands-on," said Dr. Fajardo. "That's the only way I can know what is actually going on in my department. So it is my view that autopsies will have to be performed by me."

Dr. Fajardo joined the L.A. County Coroner's Office from a previous post in Riverside County, where he performed the autopsy of rogue ex-cop Christopher Dorner in February.

It's a balancing act between public information and privacy, Fajardo said. Even now, he confesses he never imagined there would be so much interest in examining the dead.

"It's one of the things we shouldn't talk about, versus people are very very interested," said. "They watch CSI, they watch NCIS, all the shows that are on TV now. A lot of my profession has been brought to the limelight."

Asked if he is ready for the limelight that will undoubtedly come from the next high profile celebrity death, Dr. Fajardo said he doesn't know how he will react, having never encountered a celebrity case.

"Fortunately for me I have good people working for me and so they have gone through that, they're experienced with that. And so I will rely heavily upon them," he said.

"I hope to serve the people of L.A. County to the best of my ability," said Dr. Fajardo. "And hopefully that we can serve their needs in their time of need."

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