Highland County coroner: No funding, no autopsies


Highland County Coroner Dr. Jeff Beery said he will be forced to stop having autopsies performed if more funds aren’t allocated for his office’s investigations.

In a letter read Wednesday during a meeting of the Highland County Board of Commissioners meeting, Beery wrote that if the board has “any difficulty with this, please let me know, and I will turn off the spigot immediately.”

In a later interview with The Times-Gazette, Beery explained that “turning off the spigot” means stopping all autopsies altogether.

“I’ll quit doing autopsies,” he said. “If they can’t pay for them, I can’t do them.” Autopsies from this area are performed in Montgomery County, which charges $1,550 per autopsy, Beery said later.

In the letter, Beery said so far this year he has opened 40 cases and had 25 autopsies conducted, although he told The Times-Gazette on Wednesday that two more cases had been opened since he sent the letter on Aug. 30, bringing the total this year to 42.

Some of the cases are still open, Beery said, including one from April.

“I was able to get several of these [autopsies] paid by other sources,” Beery said in the letter. “Therefore, I am still within budget; however one more will put me over.”

Beery requested in the letter that the commissioners continue to fund his office on a case-by-case basis, and Highland County Board of Commissioners President Shane Wilkin said during Wednesday’s meeting that the board would have to “dig around” to find funding.

The commissioners took no action on the matter, although Wilkin said he had asked Beery to send the letter to have a record of the request.

Beery said the high volume of drug overdose cases that have flooded his and other coroner’s offices around the state over the past two years have continued to break records.

“I think everyone is very much aware of the devastation of the drug craze that has only seemed to increase,” Beery said in the letter. “It is my hope that next year, the tide will turn, as we tighten border security.”

In a recent interview, Beery said that he never thought he would see drugs kill so many people. When he began investigating deaths in 1999 and 2001, Beery said, a leading cause of death was automobile accidents.

Now, Beery said the constant search for funding is simply part of the process for his office.

“I understand that money is always tight, and I’m just one piece in the puzzle,” he said. “I trust the commissioners’ discretion to find the money, and I’ll work with them with whatever they can spare. I hate to see someone slip away who we might get help for or prosecute just because we didn’t have the money to do the proper forensics… I just need to work with everybody.”

On another note, Beery said in his letter that a former coroner’s office investigator, Creed Culbreath, has shown interest in doing “house calls” with those who survive drug overdoses.

“He said he would be happy to do this at no cost to the county or the coroner’s office,” Beery said in the letter. “I have a couple of funding ideas, so if it proves beneficial, we can get him some funds. For now, he will be doing this simply as a good Samaritan.”

In other business Wednesday, Wilkin said 25 teams have signed up to compete in the upcoming Smokin’ in the Hills barbecue competition set for Saturday, Sept. 23 at Rocky Fork Lake.

“It should be a real fun event,” he said.

Wilkin also said he has not heard of any local high schools responding to McClain High School’s memo challenging area school districts to compete in a canoe race and obstacle course at Smokin’ in the Hills. Wilkin said the challenge still stands.

The commissioners also passed routine financial resolutions and held an executive session after the meeting to discuss personnel issues with Highland County Job and Family Services Director Katie Adams.

The board took no action on the matter.

Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.

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Highland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan, left, and board of commissioners prresident Shane Wilkin, right, sit in session during a commissioners meeting Wednesday.
http://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2017/09/web1_commish090617.jpgHighland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan, left, and board of commissioners prresident Shane Wilkin, right, sit in session during a commissioners meeting Wednesday. David Wright | The Times-Gazette
‘If they can’t pay for them, I can’t do them’

By David Wright

dwright@timesgazette.com