Autopsy change irks coroner

Published 7:45 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

The state’s recent budget crunch could have an effect on the way autopsies are handled, if a recent decision by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences goes into effect.

Starting Jan. 19, the state department says it will no longer transport bodies to the lab in Montgomery for autopsy reports. Instead, the responsibility for transporting the bodies will fall to the individual counties.

“I hope that the governor will change (this policy back),” said Norman Hobson, Covington County coroner. “Last year, the attorney general issued an opinion that transporting the bodies is the county’s responsibility and not the state’s responsibility, but that was never enforced. Now that it could be enforced, it might be a problem.”

Michael Sparks, director of the ADFS, told Associated Press reporters Monday that the change was necessary because the department has to cut about $1.4 million from its budget.

“We’re hoping this is not a decision that is set in stone,” Covington County Sheriff Dennis Meeks said. “I hope they will be able to work something out and make cuts in other areas besides transportation, because that will make it tough on agencies like ours.”

Hobson said an autopsy is necessary anytime someone dies from a violent crime, or there is an undetermined death where foul play is suspected. Hobson said he previously would contact someone with the forensics department, and the state would send an investigator and means of transportation to pick up the body and take it to the state lab. Following the autopsy, the body would then be returned to its respective funeral home.

“I’ve been trying to get in touch with the county commissioners to discuss this matter with them,” Hobson said. “I have also been in conversations with local rescue squads to see if we can develop a proposal to transport these bodies, if it’s necessary.��

The proposal could save the state $400,000 annually, but it could also cause headaches for law enforcement and coroners alike.

“If we have a homicide, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Meeks said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Star-News reporter Stephanie Nelson contributed to this story.