Coroner asks for funds to pay for an increase in autopsies

BROWNSTOWN — The Jackson County coroner recently asked the county council to double his funds for autopsies this year due to an 80% increase in cases.

Paul Foster told the councilmen during their meeting at the courthouse that by June 2021, his office had conducted 34 autopsies.

This year at the same point in time, that number is 61. The budget for autopsies for this year was $30,000, and that money has been spent —something that didn’t happen during his first year in office in 2021, Foster said.

Foster said after talking to his predecessor,Mike Bobb, he has determined that normally, the second half of the year is the office’s busiest time.

“Of course, I don’t know what’s going on two years after a pandemic,” Foster said. “Out of those 61 cases (this year), 53 were less than 80 years old.”

He said 70 to 80 is kind of the guideline where the decision is made to have or not have an autopsy made.

“A lot of times, people 80 years or older have a lot of other medical things going, and that helps with not necessarily doing an autopsy,” Foster said.

He said families often still want to know the cause of death for loved ones in their 50s and 60s.

Foster said during the first part of this year, there have been a lot of deaths related to alcohol, drugs, car accidents and infants. Some autopsies require a forensic pathologist from Indianapolis, which can cost more.

“An Indianapolis autopsy is about $2,000, while a Jackson County autopsy is about $1,200,” he said.

He also said the sheriff’s department is working a cold case that is about 50 years old.

As part of that investigation, which he and Sheriff Rick Meyer declined to discuss in detail, the sheriff’s department, coroner’s office, prosecutor’s office and FBI want to exhume two bodies.

“It’s what we feel like needs to be done with this roughly 50-year-old case,” Foster said.

He estimated the cost of exhuming the two bodies would be about $15,600 on the high end.

Councilman Brian Thompson asked Foster if he thought $30,000 would cover autopsies for the rest of the year.

“I think that would be the minimal,” Foster said. “Hopefully, the second half of the year is not the first. Some of these cases are going to litigation, so we need to do a thorough job,” Foster said.

Councilman John Nolting asked Foster if someone requests an autopsy, does he have to honor that request.

“Yes,” Foster said.

He also said a lot of the cases are drug-related and involve young people.

“If you think it’s drug-related and then comes back clean, now you don’t have anything to work with,” Foster said.

The council eventually agreed to seek an additional appropriation of $45,000 for autopsies and for exhumation of the two bodies during the next meeting at 8 a.m. July 20 at the courthouse.