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Coroner's Office Will Cut Services, Lay Off 22 : Finances: Officials predict reduced funding will have severe impact, increasing delays and complaints.


The county coroner's office, facing a $1.4-million budget cut, will lay off 22 employees, reduce autopsies from seven to six days a week and dramatically curtail the hours a family may retrieve a body under a plan submitted Friday to the Board of Supervisors.

The cutbacks, scheduled to take effect Wednesday, will have a severe impact on investigative and forensic functions of the department, coroner's officials said, causing delays in the removal of bodies at accident and crime scenes, as well as in identifying bodies and notification of next of kin.

Officials are predicting a significant increase in complaints and even litigation because of the cuts.

Last year, the coroner's office handled 18,300 cases, including homicides, unnatural, suspicious and unattended deaths. Besides performing autopsies, coroner's investigators gather a dead person's possessions, photograph the body, do laboratory testing, and determine the cause and manner of a death. The department's responsibilities also include contacting the family to inform them of the death.

Among those who will be laid off to meet budget demands are five investigators, 11 mortuary attendants, four forensic technicians and one of the three field investigators who handle homicides and sexual assault cases.

The field crime investigators--who were on call 24 hours, seven days per week--will now be on call only 14 hours a day, potentially jeopardizing the gathering and preserving of evidence.

Officials estimate that delays in handling cases could take from five to seven days. Current response time is two to three days.

The loss of forensic support will mean elimination of autopsy services at the Olive View Medical Center and at High Desert Hospital. The loss of mortuary attendants will result in scaling back the hours that bodies are available to be released to funeral directors and families. Now, releases are done seven days a week, including holidays; under the new budget, attendants will be available to release bodies only six hours a day, six days a week, excluding holidays.

Coroner's officials add that the loss of technical staff will hamper their ability to identify so-called John Doe bodies to the point that they will have to rely on outside services in some cases.

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