Why do Coast counties have to pay to transport bodies to Pearl when a new lab sits unused?

Mississippi Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn
Mississippi Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn Mississippi Today File

A lot has happened since 2011.

Mississippi has hired presidents at two of our three largest universities. It has hired Carey Wright as superintendent of schools, who this year is the highest paid state superintendent in the country.

It has funded trooper schools to deal with manpower shortages in the Department of Public Safety.

Mississippi voters have replaced congressmen and legislators, elected a governor and helped elect a new president, voted in new mayors and other city officials.

But there is one hire Mississippi just can’t seem to make: An assistant medical examiner for the crime lab north of Biloxi. In 2011, South Mississippi got a state-of-the-art crime lab that has barely been used because it can’t hire that ME.

Chief Medical Examiner Mark LeVaughn says one problem is the pay, a measly $190,000, which seems pretty stupendous in the coastal counties where the median income has yet to crack the $50,000 mark.

But he says nationwide the median price for such expertise is about $235,000.

So that’s our dilemma. We either have to convince the Legislature to come up with more money in a time when state spending is headed in the opposite direction or do a better job of recruiting.

Yes, our salary is considerably lower but so is the cost of living. And there are fringe benefits to living on the Coast that many places can’t match. And, you get to work in a state-of-the-art lab that’s just like new.

LeVaughn says the caseload makes recruiting tougher, too. Once again, it’s up to the Legislature to provide adequate funding for public safety, one of its core functions. The Medical Examiner’s Office plays a crucial role in bringing criminals to justice, to have it chronically understaffed is an injustice to us all.

Once again, Jackson, and by that we mean the seat of state government, is treating the Coast as an afterthought. The Coast complex has been ready to go since 2011. First, there was no money to operate it. It took the death of Dr. Paul McGarry in January 2015 to spur the Legislature to come up money to hire a medical examiner and operate the lab. McGarry was a state-designated medical examiner and forensic pathologist who had performed the region’s autopsies at each county’s expense for more than 30 years.

It takes a crisis such as the tour bus-train crash in Biloxi to get a medical examiner down here even temporarily.

One lawmaker had it right: It doesn’t make any sense. Or does it?

It’s much easier to let the Coast pick up the tab, about $540 a trip, for bringing bodies to the main crime lab in Pearl than it is to find the money to run the state’s lab on the Coast. That’s what the counties have to do: Hire someone to haul the bodies to Pearl. The cost to the state? Zero.

And they’ll get away with it as long as we let them.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.