This is a definitive expose by News Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt. The time line he establishes removes any excuse a county council member or the county manager may use as a shield.
While a few council members, along with the manager and his staff, attempt to say they had no idea there were so many problems in the ME's office, or that it’s not that bad, their own words defy credulity. One thing is becoming increasingly clear with each denial and criticism of the latest resigned ME, their deflections are not plausible when compared with the time line and facts of record. What is really going on here?
Here are the facts:
Problems with Volusia’s ME office go back as far as 1998 when then ME Dr. Ronald Reeves claimed there were 20 suspicious deaths he believed were murders. A panel of medical experts dismissed the cases because of botched blood-test results and autopsies that were delayed too long. Not because it did not happen, we will never know because our ME’s office did not perform its work correctly.
We have been doing autopsies for Seminole County for 15 years and receiving income of around $900,000.00 a year for that period. Why add this extra work load if, as they say, space was an issue? Or was space not an issue? And where is that money accounted for?
During the 2012 George Zimmerman trial our then ME Dr. Shiping Bao changed his testimony during the trial and was terminated. County spokesman Dave Byron declined to give a reason, citing county standard personnel practices. Do we have those?
In 2015 Volusia County was asked to correct 16 deficiencies in the office and the council and staff were notified the ME office was losing its certification. That list was not limited to space problems alone. The department was a mess. This was published news for all to see. The county knew, it had been notified, and it was discussed in chambers.
In 2016 the News Journal again reported their “analysis of available state records shows the Volusia County Medical Examiner’s office was among the lowest-staffed in the state in 2016. That year, five doctors in the Volusia County office split the workload of 764 autopsies. Other districts that cover areas of a similar population have at least twice as much help from certified head, primary or secondary medical examiners, the newspaper found.” The press and therefore the public knew it was a problem. Whey did our county chair, manager, and most council members not know?
The public exposure to the ME’s many problems continued in 2017 when Dustin Wyatt published another article revealing: “A growing number of dead bodies and not enough space to store them. Too few doctors to catch up on a backlog of cases numbering in the hundreds. A morgue so outdated the smell of what’s inside drifts down the corridor and into public spaces." The press and therefore the public knew it was a problem. Whey did our county chair, county manager, and most council members not know?
"The Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office has been so riddled with challenges that it lost its national accreditation in 2015, records show, and a quick fix seems unlikely even as the County Council voted last week to extend a contract to handle death investigations for Seminole County.” The press and the public knew it was a problem. It was discussed in chambers. It is not credible for our county manager to plead ignorance. Did he inform the council? Chamber records will show the problems with the MEs situation was discussed in chambers.
Meanwhile the lifetime politician who likes to complain about inexperienced newcomers who don’t know how to get things done, blows the whole thing off by calling Dustin’s reporting, “bull----! Pat Patterson further claimed he had never heard any complaints about the office. Really? He was on the council during all of these discussions. Perhaps it would be a good use of taxpayer's money to invest in a subscription to the Daytona Beach News Journal for Pat. Might as well get one for the equally obtuse county manager and county chair.
Ignorance is no excuse in law breaking. Billie Wheeler, a recent addition to the council, said she was frustrated with the latest revelations and was asking her own questions. That should be an example to every other council member. Ignorance should not be an excuse for irresponsibility. And irresponsibility cannot be covered over by expressing anger at the messenger.
Based on past experiences there is little comfort in learning the county manager and chair have called in a “third party person” whose job seems to be to relieve them of all responsibility for knowing anything. It is standard operating procedure in Volusia County. When you need to fool the public pay for an independent study or survey designed to prove your point. They are so certain of what that independent expert’s report will say Dinneen explained, “a third party person will validate that they are not legitimate concerns that should scare anybody away.” He seems pretty sure of the outcome.
Ed Kelley, who on the one hand says he has never heard of any problems, and Jim Dinneen, who says the ME is the most independent body in the county and is probably the least hands on, are suddenly so completely aware of the ME office working conditions they can absolutely guarantee what the report will show. Everyone else is a liar.
I would like to see the record of every request made by outgoing ME Dr. Zydowicz and former ME Dr. Marie Herrmann. Surely they can be made public knowledge. It would be rare indeed for a department manager to have never made a request for her department.
We need to find out why there is a 20 year history of mismanagement and mistakes in this important office we pay for and law enforcement depends on. If the county manager is purposefully ignorant of the working in this office (until yesterday) why is it under his “management” at all?
Should the ME’s office even be a part of our county government? Sheriff Chitwood believes that at least until a determination is made of the extent of the problems involved the State should take over. The council should discuss this with every option on the table. The difficulty with that is the County Charter has become the “golden café” that cannot be touched or altered. Meanwhile Fire Fighters, EMS, VCSO, and the ME office all suffer from unresolved issues the council claims no knowledge of.
The charter was intended to better serve us, not be an expensive Albatross. Click on the link below to read Dustin's expose.