The Island County coroner ruled this week that a 71-year-old Coupeville man’s death at a nursing home Oct. 17 was the result of an assault that occurred months prior at his home.
Well-known resident Ronnie G. Wilkinson died at Careage of Whidbey after spending months in and out of hospitals.
Coroner Robert Bishop determined that Wilkinson’s cause of death was “dilated cardiomyopathy with cardiomegaly aggravated by a perirenal hematoma due to blunt force trauma of the torso.” The manner of death is homicide.
Bishop found that Wilkinson had prior underlying medical conditions, but that his death was the result of a blunt force injury that occurred May 5 of this year.
Bishop said the investigation into the cause and manner of death required extensive investigation, including an extended review of the medical records as well as interviews with doctors, family and friends.
Detectives with the Island County Sheriff’s Office are re-investigating the case because of the coroner’s ruling. Bishop noted, however, that the standards he uses to determine the manner and cause of death are different than those used by law enforcement and prosecutors.
“The medicolegal definition of homicide does not account for specific intention, who caused the trauma or if it was a criminal act,” he explained.
Detective Ed Wallace said the case was difficult to investigate from the beginning and the length of time between the injury and death may make it even more challenging.
The case was initially investigated as a domestic-violence assault that occurred at Wilkinson’s home in Coupeville. Wilkinson ended up at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle as a result of the injury, but it wasn’t reported until two days after it occurred.
Wallace said witnesses were reluctant to talk about what happened. The case was forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for possible charges of assault in the second degree, tampering with a witness and assault in the fourth degree. Investigators initially identified two men as possible suspects, but nobody was charged.
Wallace said the detective assigned to the newly designated homicide case will essentially start the investigation over and re-interview everyone involved.
The prosecutor’s office will ultimately decide if there’s enough evidence of a crime to file any charges.
Wilkinson retired to Whidbey Island in 2000. He was active with the Coupeville Lions Club and Beach Watchers, was a docent at the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, and served on the board of the Island County Historical Museum and Northwest Bloodworks.