The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

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July 25, 2011

Walker County drops Dallas morgue in favor of Montgomery County facility

HUNTSVILLE — Walker County commissioners voted on Monday to cut costs on an expense the county can’t help but incur — autopsies.

  Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Janie Farris asked commissioners to enter into an interlocal agreement with newly opened Montgomery County Forensic Center for the purpose of conducting postmortem examinations.

Walker County has been sending its victims of unnatural death to the Dallas medical examiner’s office for examination. Because of the backlog at the Dallas morgue, some autopsy reports are taking two to three months to complete.

“I think it would save the county money,” Farris said of the move to Montgomery County. “You’re looking at an $1,800 autopsy compared with $2,300 in Dallas and much lower transportation costs. It’s a new facility.”

Assistant District Attorney Jack Choate said he’s glad the office in Montgomery County is open and he looks forward to working with medical examiner Sparks Veasey, a forensic pathologist, former prosecutor and chief medical examiner for the University  of Texas in Galveston, according to the Montgomery County Police

“We conduct autopsies anytime there’s an unnatural death,” he said. “Homicide, suspicious deaths, unattended deaths and suicide – all under the discretion of the justices of the peace.”

Choate said all trace evidence in a case, such as fiber, hair or DNA, will still be sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab in Austin.

Choate agreed that having access to a medical examiner’s office one county away will save time and money.

“The biggest asset is truly the proximity — the ability for police and investigating officers to observe an autopsy if necessary,” he said. “We also look at the ease with which Dr. Veasey can be available to testify — being able to have that arm’s length ability to have a conversation with him.”

Commissioners unanimously approved the request to use Montgomery County’s medical examiner’s office.

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