Jackson County

Jackson County's coroner has no room for dealing with the dead

Video: Jackson County Coroner needs more room

Jackson County Coroner Vicki Broadus doesn't have proper room to visit with the families of the dead.
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Jackson County Coroner Vicki Broadus doesn't have proper room to visit with the families of the dead.

PASCAGOULA -- Vicki Broadus rarely goes before the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, but this time she had had enough. She needs more space, and she told them so last week.

Broadus is the county coroner, and since 2005's Hurricane Katrina her office has been bundled into small spaces, with the promise that someday the county would find room for dealing with the dead. It hasn't happened yet and the number of files and autopsies keeps growing.

Crammed into three small rooms in the back corner of a sprawling county building on Amonett Street, she has no room to talk with families of the dead, no good place to explain autopsies, no safe place where people can get emotional.

Her small back room is full of files of the dead that date to 2000, with a few from as early as 1995. Her small front room has a desk for a secretary -- who doubles as a receptionist -- and a table for deputy coroners to begin the sometimes-complicated process of filling out forms for cases. The middle room has a desk Broadus and a clerk share with whoever else needs it. The room can seat two visitors.

Broadus works from home when there's no room at the office.

Sometimes she meets families at the duck pond outside Singing River Hospital. If the families are big, she must use the very public hospital lobby.

These are not the families of people who have lost a loved one to an extended illness, those who have been expecting death and have had time to adjust.

They are usually people who have seen tragedy -- an auto accident or suicide, cases where an autopsy is ordered.

"They already have a hole in their hearts they can't fill," she said. "They have lots of questions that deserve to be answered."

She's not comparing her issues with those of the district attorney and the sheriff's office, but those two entities quickly expanded into the space left over in the old courthouse when the new County Services Complex was built and county offices transitioned to the new building.

The sheriff and DA have bigger staffs, higher profiles and a big workload, she said, "and the county doesn't understand what we do."

She lists insurance issues, paperwork for law enforcement and lawyers, depositions, autopsies and viewing the body.

And her office's needs are growing, she said. "We're a 24-hour operation, seven days a week.

"We have a lot of drug deaths in this county," she said, "and they are difficult."

Families come to her to pick up personal effects, and there are many things they don't understand. Sometimes they're searching for answers. She wants to give them all the time and attention she can.

"Infant deaths are the worst," she said. They affect her most, are heartbreaking and take longer. The walls in the little offices are paper-thin; there's no privacy.

The offices also are in an isolated corner of the building, so on weekends she doesn't want to meet people there alone.

No space for the coroner's office was built into the new county complex, either. But she was promised more room in 2011, under a previous county administrator, she said. On Monday, County Administrator Brian Fulton told supervisors, he has people looking. "We're aware, we're working on it," he said.

He sent someone who moved things around, trying to create more space, she said, but that person shook his head.

"It's just an issue of space," she said. "It's no one's fault."

Before the storm, the coroner's office had a floor of the Brumfield Building that the county rented downtown. It's gone. And she was told the county doesn't want to rent.

"This is only the second time since 1999 I've been before the Board of Supervisors," she said. "I just felt like enough was enough."

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