$28,000 Budget Amendment Requested for Death Investigation for Vader Boy

Lewis County Coroner Uncertain How Loss of Contract Pathologists Will Impact Budget

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

On Tuesday, Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod made his final update of the year to the Board of Lewis County Commissioners, reporting his office will likely end the year under budget. 

But the next few years are anybody’s guess, he said, as the county is set to lose both of its contracted pathologists, who have saved money over the alternative — paying up to $1,500 per autopsy, McLeod said. 

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“Bottom line is I have no idea what the picture will look like (in 2019),” he said. 

In past years, the Lewis County Coroner’s Office has contracted with two forensic pathologists for a yearly fee for autopsies and other tasks that must be performed by a medical doctor. 

One of those doctors has resigned and taken a new job, McLeod said Tuesday, and the second, Dr. Emmanuel Lacsina, is preparing to retire at the end of 2018. 

Lacsina plans to continue providing services to Lewis County through the end of next year and has offered to arrange for an alternate pathologist when he is unavailable, McLeod said, adding that his office will need to work during 2018 to find a permanent solution for the following year. 

Contracting with Cowlitz County is an option, he said. Working with individual pathologists and paying per autopsy could cost the county $1,200 to $1,500 each, he said. 

The news also comes at the end of a particularly busy year for the Coroner’s Office. On Tuesday, McLeod presented his year-to-date statistics to the Board of Lewis County Commissioners, showing 800 deaths so far, up from 762 in 2016, he said. 

The county has also had 25 suicides, four more than its previous highest year since the office has kept records. 

In 2017, the office has needed 62 autopsies, up from a yearly average of 48, McLeod said. 

“But that makes sense — our calls are up,” he said. 

In preparation for the change, McLeod and several staff members at the coroner’s office are training to do external exams themselves to save money. 

The Coroner’s Office is also exploring a possible contract with a mortuary for a flat yearly rate for body removals. Currently the county pays per removal. 

Having a contract for a pathologist and mortuary gives the county more certainty, as death rates tend to be unpredictable, McLeod said.