County takes step to streamline coroner services

The Mower County board took a step to streamline and specialize its coroner services and death scene investigations.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to end its appointed county coroner system and enter into a contract with the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office starting Jan. 1, 2016.

The decision was based around a trend that’s seen the services become more specialized, largely for when deaths are in some way tied to court cases and testimony.

“We are in a place now in our criminal law and with our juries and with the way our crime is that we need to have a system where that is what they do and that is all that they do,” County Attorney Kristen Nelsen said.

Nelsen has advocated for the change because most other counties in the area have gone to a medical examiner system like this, which utilizes people who specialize in dealing with examinations.

The current county coroner, David Strobel, attended and spoke briefly during the meeting about his services and ways he might be able to speed up his reports if the board needed.

However, Nelsen said the decision wasn’t based on him or his services.

“There is absolutely nothing personal about this,” Nelsen said. “It’s not about you.”

“It’s not that we don’t value your service,” she added. “It’s just that we have moved and our criminal justice system is moving to an area where everything is so much more specialized.”

Strobel said he understood the decision, and he didn’t contest the reasoning and the need for specialization.

When he started, Strobel was a medical examiner under one statute, but he’s been listed as a coroner under the most recent statute, which reserves the title of medical examiner for a pathologist with specialized training.

“My ability to be able to appear in court and present expert testimony is questionable, even if I know what I’m talking about, because my credentials don’t give me the authority to be able to do that, so I don’t disagree with that contention at all,” he said.

However, Strobel spoke on behalf of his four death scene investigators, stating he hopes the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office may be able to utilize their expertise and training.

“I am here primarily as an advocate for my death scene investigators, who I think have done a very good job, and the county would suffer if they were not offered a position that really made use of their training and expertise,” he said. “I just really would advocate that you work hard on keeping them on board.”

Nelsen and board members said that the company has expressed openness to utilizing the investigators, though nothing is guaranteed.

Commissioners Jerry Reinartz and Mike Ankeny both said they appreciated Strobel’s many years of service.

“We do thank you for your service,” Ankeny said.

Several years ago, County Coordinator Craig Oscarson noted they had performance issues with a past coroner, and the position was once elected. However, Oscarson commended Strobel for stepping forward and volunteering to fill the role.

“That was a great service that Dr. Strobel provided for us,” he said.

Strobel was first appointed as coroner in 1998.

The change wasn’t a money issue. In fact, the change is budgeted for an estimated $111,285 in 2016, while the net budget for the coroner was about $73,200 in 2015 and $80,166 in 2014.

The county already uses the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office for some services. For example, the office provided services after the David Madison homicide investigation, which is currently ongoing after Madison was found in the Cedar River Nov. 1.

Strobel was still in charge of the death investigators, but he and the county contracted with the examiner’s office for the autopsy.

Nelsen said it was purely coincidental that the change was approved less than two weeks after Madison’s homicide.

 

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