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State Medical Examiner says His Office is Underfunded

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state's chief medical examiner says the Legislature is underfunding the Office of the Medical Examiner and autopsy reports are taking longer than they should to complete as a result.

"If you look at our funding and staffing levels compared nationally, we're in the toilet," said Dr. Todd Grey.

Grey, three forensic pathologists and four autopsy assistants analyze more than 2,000 bodies each year.

Another 1,500 to 2,000 death certificates are reviewed and approved by the office each year, though those bodies are never autopsied by his staff.

The office received $2.5 million in 2007, an increase of $207,000 from the previous year. The office went over budget the previous year by $112,000, according to the Fiscal Year 2008 Appropriations Report. Grey said the budget shortfalls can mean death certificates and causes of death take weeks to return to surviving family members, police and prosecutors.

In a recent incident, family members of 5-week-old Kayden Crook waited nearly three months for an autopsy report on the cause of the infants death.

On April 10, the boys father called police and said the baby ingested water while he was bathing him in a sink. The baby later died at a hospital. A spokesman said Layton police immediately suspected the father had harmed the child. However, police waited until July 10 before charging Bradley Richard Crook, 39, with second-degree felony child abuse homicide. Police said the autopsy, which showed injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome, delayed the charges.

However, Grey said police investigators and prosecutors usually have other aspects of the investigation to complete during the while the medical report is finished.

Its the victims families who suffer, he said.

"Until theres a cause of death, no insurance company is going to pay anything," he said.

Assistant Davis County Attorney Steve Major agreed. He said he sees victims suffering from having to wait on a death certificate to be issued.

"If I were to die and a doctor were to sign my death certificate immediately -- like if I died in the hospital, then my wife could take it down and get insurance in a week or two," he said. "If I have to go down to the medical examiner -- if its an unattended death, or something -- it could take eight weeks and in the meantime my wife cant do anything."

Grey said there's little he can do to persuade the Legislature to increase his budget.

"As long as the system is doing an adequate job, the pain level on the decision-makers is low," he said. "The system creaks along and then usually what happens is theres a catastrophic (foul) up and everyone says Wow. "

He said things may have to get worse before they get better.

"If a prosecutor loses some big case because of it, maybe theyll get together and fix it."

Information from: Standard-Examiner

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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