County asks state to amend Post-Mortem Examination Act

Published 8:33 am Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reacting to a growth in autopsies performed by ETSU’s William L. Jenkins Forensic Center for Carter County, the county commission voted to ask the Tennessee General Assembly to make a key change to state law.

During this month’s meeting, the commission approved unanimously, 23-0, a resolution to request that State Representatives for Carter County present legislation that would amend the Post-Mortem Examination Act so that only district attorneys, with the consultation of local law enforcement, can call for autopsies. As the act is currently worded, medical examiners can call for an autopsy of any death that is considered to have happened “under suspicious, unusual or unnatural circumstances.”

The passing of the above resolution came on the same night that the commission approved, 24-1, a new contract with ETSU and the Forensic Center for autopsy services. The year-long contract has a key difference from the four-year contract between the County and ETSU that recently expired. The new agreement, which will cost Carter County $113,592 paid out at $9,466 a month, includes a cap or a base number of 67 autopsies after which the County will have to pay $1,800 per autopsy. According to Carter County attorney Josh Hardin, this is the first year that a cap has been included in the contract.

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According to a letter authored by Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett to the commissioners, the county has $124,681 allocated in the 2018-19 fiscal year budget for forensic services. With the $113,592 subtracted that leaves $11,078 left over to cover additional autopsies, which equates to seven cases before the county would have to approve more money.

In conjunction with the new 67-case base number, the commission is also concerned with the consistent growth of autopsies being performed each year by the ETSU forensics center for Carter County.

According to information released to the Elizabethton Star by ETSU, in 2017 the William L. Jenkins Forensic Center conducted 62 autopsies on deaths that happened in Carter County.

That number was 66 in 2016 and 63 in 2015 which is more than double the 27 cases in 2014. In 2006, there were only 12 autopsies performed for Carter County.

Here are the year-by-year numbers since 2006:

2006 — 12 cases

2007 — 28 cases

2008 — 23 cases

2009 — 38 cases

2010 — 35 cases

2011 — 34 cases

201 2— 36 cases

2013 — 30 cases

2014 — 27 cases

2015 — 63 cases

2016 — 66 cases

2017 — 62 cases

Hardin said that he has sent out letters to State Representatives John Holsclaw, and Timothy Hill, and State Senators Rusty Crowe, and Jon Lundberg asking them to present legislation amending the Post-Mortem Examination Act in according to county’s recent resolution.