Coroner: Autopsies a problem

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Hiring a new full-time medical examiner hasn’t fixed the office’s problems, according to one area coroner, and the effects are not positive for families of the deceased.
When the body of Anthony Lewis was found in a canal behind his home on Tuesday, June 7 in Guntown, it was not clear if he’d drowned because of some head trauma. So Lee County Coroner Carolyn Gillentine-Green sent the body off for an autopsy to determine a cause of death.
“I sent the body Thursday morning and was told it would be done by that evening,” said Gillentine-Green. “But they didn’t get to it. Then I was told it would be done Friday and they didn’t get to it that day. So I was assured it would be done Saturday morning, but they didn’t get started until late, which caused the body to be late getting back.”
The autopsy was finished on that Saturday, June 11, but no cause of death has been released yet.
The medical examiner’s office holding on to the body also caused problems for the family. A visitation was scheduled for 4 p.m. that Saturday, but Lewis’ body hadn’t arrived.
Lewis’ body arrived at the funeral home that evening. Gillentine-Green said the family was told the body would be late and have not complained, but that doesn’t make it right.
“My thing is if you tell us it’s going to be here then the body needs to be here,” she said. “I know they get piled up, and I know they get busy and that’s fine. But that needs to be communicated to the families.”
Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Jon Kalahar said there were 10 autopsies being done the weekend in question and homicides were first priority.
“I don’t know why someone thought the body would be back by 4 or who told the family it would be, but that did not come from the medical examiner’s office,” said Kalahar.
Coroners in the state have been frustrated with lengthy autopsies for years. Much of the problem was because there was no full-time medical examiner in place. But in March, Mark LeVaughn was hired.
Despite the changes, Gillentine-Green said there are still some things that need to be worked on to ensure victims’ families are getting the best possible service.