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Brian Bradford visits the grave of his daughter, Briana Bradford, on Feb. 18, 2021, the two-year anniversary since she died unexpectedly at age seven. She was buried at Bunkers Memory Gardens Memorial Park in Las Vegas. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

A child’s unexplained death - and the refusal for an autopsy

Brian Bradford said he asked the Clark County coroner’s office to autopsy his 7-year-old daughter after she died unexpectedly at a local hospital.

A child’s sudden death — and the coroner’s refusal of an autopsy

Updated February 27, 2021 - 11:46 pm

Brian Bradford is haunted by his daughter’s death. And not knowing why the apparently healthy 7-year-old died makes it worse.

Briana was never seriously ill, her father said, until she came down with stomach pain and vomiting in February 2019 and was rushed to Summerlin Hospital Medical Center. A few days later, she was dead.

The family and their former attorney asked the Clark County Coroner to investigate but the office declined, saying the hospital told them it was a natural death.

“The coroner’s office denied any autopsy and she didn’t fall under criteria due to whatever info the hospital told them that she died of natural causes,” Bradford said.

Briana’s death certificate stated sepsis was the cause of death, according to Bradford, and the coroner determined the manner of death was natural.

The coroner’s internal policy says the office will do autopsies if requested by the next of kin and that they autopsy all children and infants. “Sudden and unexpected deaths in infants, children or adolescents are unusual and have special forensic and public health importance,” the policy says.

But interim Coroner Michael Murphy said the policy is just for cases under the coroner’s jurisdiction, and Briana’s death did not qualify because it wasn’t a violent death nor was there the possibility of criminal wrongdoing.

We don’t know what happened to her, and we probably will never know what happened to her.

Brian Bradford

Murphy said in deaths attended by a physician, a staff member from the coroner’s office usually discusses the circumstances with doctors over the phone to determine if it falls under the office’s jurisdiction.

“We triage those deaths by phone and rely on the info the hospital reports,” he said.

But Brian Bradford said it is impossible to know what caused Briana’s death because the coroner didn’t investigate.

“We don’t know what happened,” he said. “She could have been poisoned but we won’t know because they never looked into it.”

Brian Bradford arranges roses by the grave of his daughter, Briana Bradford. She died at age 7 ...
Brian Bradford arranges roses by the grave of his daughter, Briana Bradford. She died at age 7 and the Clark County Coroner's office refused the family's request for an autopsy. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

County policy

County spokesman Dan Kulin said coroner’s jurisdiction is set by a county ordinance that says the duties of the coroner are to determine cause of death of people killed by violence, or who were not recently under the care of a doctor, and suspicious deaths that might have been the result of criminal actions.

Natural deaths are not mentioned in the ordinance.

The coroner’s policy clearly discusses autopsying natural deaths at the kin’s request. But Murphy said that policy is for cases where the office believes they have jurisdiction and conduct an initial investigation or examination of the body, but then determine the cause was natural. In those cases, the family can request the more detailed and invasive autopsy to be sure of the cause of death.

Kulin wrote that the family suspects malpractice, and the coroner does not get involved in those cases.

“Brianna [sic] Bradford’s death was tragic,” he wrote. “She was in a hospital under the care of a doctor when she passed, and we understand that the family believes there were quality of care issues that may have caused her death … The office does not investigate allegations related to the quality of medical care provided.”

Brian Bradford poses for a portrait by the grave of his daughter, Briana Bradford, on the two-y ...
Brian Bradford poses for a portrait by the grave of his daughter, Briana Bradford, on the two-year anniversary of her death. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto
Brian Bradford said it is impossible to know what caused his daughter Briana’s death because the coroner didn’t investigate. “We don’t know what happened,” he said. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphotoo
Brian Bradford arranges roses and flowers by the grave of his daughter, Briana Bradford. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

She was in a hospital under the care of a doctor when she passed, and we understand that the family believes there were quality of care issues that may have caused her death … The office does not investigate allegations related to the quality of medical care provided.

Dan Kulin, County spokesman

The family filed a malpractice lawsuit in February 2020, claiming the hospital and doctors failed to treat Briana’s infection quickly enough, but in court filings, the medical personnel denied any wrongdoing, records show.

Between 2016 and 2020, the coroner’s office autopsied 386 people under the age of 18, and 60 of them were determined to be natural deaths. In the same period, 966 residents of Clark County who were younger than 18 died, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.

Two people under the age of 18 — a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old — are listed as coroner’s cases but had no autopsies or examinations done, coroner data shows. Briana is not listed on any of the coroner’s data.

The office is involved, either through autopsy or examining the body, in about 20 percent of deaths in the county. The rest are often reported to the coroner by the attending physician who states the cause of death and signs the death certificate.

The coroner’s office had declined to release the cause of Briana’s death to the Review-Journal, but court records revealed the cause on the death certificate. The office stated the family can access her medical records.

Bradford said the hospital ordered an private autopsy on Brianna, but hospital officials refused to release the results to him. He also talked to the doctor who did the autopsy but he said she stopped responding to his demands for information and the autopsy.

Briana’s mother, Diamond Rose, has been too distraught to discuss her daughter’s death.

Summerlin Hospital spokeswoman Gretchen Papez declined comment. “Federal privacy laws prevent us from discussing specific patient issues,” she wrote in an email.

The Review-Journal battled the coroner’s office for four years in court to obtain child autopsy records. The state supreme court finally ordered the release on New Year’s Eve.

A photo of Briana Bradford by her grave. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto
A photo of Briana Bradford by her grave. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

Lost only daughter

As the two-year anniversary of Briana’s death neared, the family continued to mourn, placing fresh flowers on her grave, and remembering the joy she brought into their lives.

“She was just an amazing little girl,” Brian Bradford said. “She was full of life.”

Briana was a happy, religious girl, according to her father.

“She grew up in the church,” Bradford said. “She was a sweet, loving little girl and everybody loved her.

Now, despite dedicating a tree to her at Children’s Memorial Park, he fears that Briana will be forgotten.

“She was my only child and she lost her life and nothing is being done,” he said. “We don’t know what happened to her, and we probably will never know what happened to her.”

Contact Arthur Kane at akane @reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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