Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy said it would be a seamless process taking over autopsies from medical examiner Dr. Rexene Worrell, but Worrell said Nye County sheriff’s deputies will now have to sign death certificates.
Nye County commissioners last week terminated a contract with Worrell after 10 years. The district attorney’s office is drawing up a memorandum of understanding with the Clark County coroner to handle Nye County autopsies.
“We’ve provided services to the Nye County sheriff for a number of years, whenever their service provider, which was the medical examiner, was not available, whether by vacation or any other reason. We’re good neighbors and have worked closely with Nye County over the past 10 years,” Murphy said.
He said there are two offices in Nevada that provide full service legal death investigations, in Clark and Washoe County, of which his office is certified by the International Association of Medical Examiners and the National Association of Medical Examiners. There are five forensic pathologists on staff in Clark County, Murphy said. They handle on average 10 to 12 cases per day, 3,000 to 4,000 per year, in a county with just under 15,000 deaths per year.
The fees are set by county ordinance. In Clark County they charge $2,500 for a full autopsy, $400 for just an external examination, Murphy said. Worrell charged $1,850 per autopsy.
In counties of less than 100,000 people, the sheriff is the ex-officio coroner. When a person dies in a suspicious death or there is a criminal component, an autopsy may be conducted into the cause of death.
“The provision of service to the citizens of Nye County will be seamless and it will be in an appropriate manner,” Murphy said.
Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said Worrell is taking some time off and Clark County is already taking his cases. DeMeo said it’s not any different than when he first started as a deputy, when the Clark County coroner provided the service.
“We have a very good relationship with the Clark County coroner’s office, a very good relationship with the Clark County coroner,” DeMeo said. “No one’s going to notice anything.”
Last month DeMeo said the Nye County Sheriff’s Office sent cases to the Clark County coroner while Worrell was on vacation to see if a full autopsy was required or there was just going to be an external examination. That included victims in a car crash on Highway 95 in Amargosa Valley that resulted in multiple fatalities.
Local mortuaries will transport bodies over the hill to Clark County for an autopsy, but there will be a charge, DeMeo said. Worrell said they charge $300 per trip.
“There is no reason for any of our deputies to go to Clark County to observe an autopsy. They’re an accredited facility. They actually do gather evidence, they’re trained to gather evidence. They do the autopsy, everything’s recorded,” the sheriff said.
Deputies would have to travel to Clark County to pick up the evidence from the coroner’s office; DeMeo said they do evidence runs to Las Vegas once or twice each week anyway.
“We weren’t an accredited facility. They are an accredited facility. They will collect all the evidence, we will just pick it up,” DeMeo said. “Deputies will be signing the (death) certificates if an autopsy is done or there’s a medical examination to be done.”
He said the deputies will have to be trained on entering death certificates into the electronic system for the Nevada Department of Health and Vital Statistics.
Worrell said she was upset the way the county commission handled her termination after so many years of service.
“It was just so horrible the way they did it,” Worrell said. “If they don’t want me and they can save money, by all means, that’s wonderful if they can do that because counties are losing money. But don’t discredit me in the interim.”
Worrell is also medical examiner for Mohave County, Ariz.
The deputies are going to have to conclude the cause of death for the death certificate, Worrell said, Clark County won’t do that. When she was Nye County medical examiner, deputies would call her from the scene of a death, she said.
Murphy said his office already handles cases for White Pine and Lincoln County. When it comes to handling the Nye County cases, he said, “We’re more than happy to work closely with the sheriff and have for a number of years. We believe we have an excellent relationship with the organization.”