By Michael Thompson

Special to The Catholic Commentator 

From murders, suicides and opioid overdoses to sexual assaults and preventable infant deaths – many people would struggle to cope with the barrage of human suffering that East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark sees daily.  

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Dr. Beau Clark has been coroner for East Baton Rouge Parish since 2012. He said he uses his faith to find effective ways to comfort surviving family members and help prevent violence. Photo provided by Dr. Beau Clark  

 

Instead of losing his faith in an active, loving God, Clark focuses on comforting surviving family members and finding effective ways to save lives, prevent violence and bring justice to victims.  

The seasoned emergency medicine physician who volunteered for 10 years as a sheriff’s SWAT team member might seem like a superhero, but he’s not immune to empathy when he delivers sad news to a family. Clark recalled a time when he informed a wife that her 80-year-old husband had just passed away in a hospital emergency room.  

“At that point she looked at me,” said Clark. “She wasn’t tearful, she just simply said, ‘He was my best friend.’ So, of course, I got emotional because that’s a pretty powerful statement right there.”  

Clark pointed to his office wall at a portrait of a grieving, shrouded individual, a gift from his mother, who taught at Our Lady of Mercy School in Baton Rouge, and a daily reminder of his calling to comfort the sorrowful. “You have to deliver bad news,” he said, “but it’s how you helped somebody through the bad news. It’s not about turning them 180 degrees. It’s about helping them walk through it.”  

When it comes to preventing tragedies, Clark focuses on advice he once received from a math teacher who told him, “the way you solve a problem is one bite at a time.” As coroner, his office focuses on three jurisdictions: Determining the cause and manner of a person’s death, managing individuals during a mental health crisis when they pose a threat to themselves or someone else and collecting evidence after a sexual assault.  

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After noticing that a growing number of infants were suffocating because of crowded sleeping conditions, Clark launched an initiative to educate and provide cribs to expectant parents. 

“It’s 100 percent preventable. We went from about 20 deaths a year down to six last year. We don’t stop until there are zero,” he said.  

While leading an office that works through 9,000 mental health cases annually, Clark also helped to improve treatment access for individuals with serious mental illnesses. Without less expensive alternatives, these individuals cycle in and out of criminal courts and hospital emergency rooms.  

As a board member of the nonprofit Bridge Center for Hope, Clark helped to begin a crisis stabilization center for adults in East Baton Rouge Parish.  

“We spend a large portion of our time, energy and even money taking people with mental health crises and putting them in jail, and it’s just not the right thing for them,” he said.  

After being elected coroner in 2012, he also helped to protect the dignity of sexual assault victims by implementing forensic medical exams conducted by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). Four years later, he expanded the use of this gold standard in evidence collection beyond East Baton Rouge Parish into Ascension, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, East Feliciana and West Feliciana parishes.  

Approximately “80 percent of sexual assaults are caused by 20 percent of perpetrators,” he said, describing how science can help identify and stop serial rapists.  

Clark concedes that many people would feel “worn down” if they saw what he sees. His office investigates approximately 12 to 20 deaths per day. He and his family have received death threats from mentally ill people, and he often sits with families who ask him why God would allow their loved one to die in a certain way.  

“You might ask yourself, how do you deal with that much pain or that much sorrow? You have to understand that you’re not in control of this life. Someone else is,” he said, adding that this includes “knowing that God has a plan for all of us period. We’re put in people’s lives to make an impact in some form or fashion.”  

As a member of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge and a graduate of Our Lady of Mercy School and St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge, Clark described the hope he finds in God’s mercy. “One of the most amazing gifts that he gave us is that he forgives us when we choose the wrong thing,” he said. “So not only does he allow you to make your own decision, but when you mess up, then he’s okay with you going, ‘geez man, I messed that up. That was wrong.’ And then you’re back in good graces as they say.”  

The father of two children offered the following advice for young people. “Lead but also know how to follow,” he said. “Have faith. Be respectful. Life’s too short to be mean or hostile. Put a smile on someone’s face. Always have a sense of humor. Being able to laugh is probably the best medicine that’s out there, better than anything I can prescribe.”