Coroner says autopsy budget is under strain

SANDPOINT — Bonner County Coroner Kitt Rose warned commissioners on Tuesday that her autopsy budget is in danger of being prematurely expended to an unusual number of deaths recently.

“In under a month, I’ve done 21 cases,” Rose told commissioners. “There is a good possibility I will run out of money.”

Most of the county’s autopsies are conducted the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office. They cost nearly $1,900 apiece, but that fee can increase to up to $3,000 once lab costs, X-rays and transportation costs are factored in, Rose said.

Autopsies are typically ordered in unattended deaths, accidental deaths, medically-related deaths, suicides and homicides. Although unattended deaths are a fairly routine occurrence, there have been a number of deaths by misadventure or murder.

A Priest River woman died earlier this month in a structure fire. The previous month, a Priest River man was arrested in connection with the stabbing death of his wife and her unborn fetus, and an Alabama woman was struck and killed by a train near the Sandpoint woman.

Rose said she budgeted $27,000 for autopsies, but she’s already used up 22 percent of that line item.

“If we don’t have another rash (of deaths), we’ll be OK,” said Rose.

Although Rose has three deputy coroners who work for a monthly stipend of $150, she urged commissioners to consider hiring a chief deputy coroner in the future to fill in for her when she is unavailable. She said the deputy coroner stipend is too paltry a sum for the amount of work that would be required.

Assessor Jerry Clemons, a former county commissioner, recommended planning for Rose’s eventual retirement.

“Those are tough shoes to fill,” said Clemons, pointing out that Rose has nursing and law degrees.

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