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New funding approved to help county medical examiner maintain its accreditation

Bexar County Criminal Investigation Lab
Bexar County
/
Bexar County
The Bexar County Criminal Investigation Lab sits in the Medical Center. It also houses the county morgue.

Bexar County has approved a $2.9 billion budget that includes a badly needed funding increase for the medical examiner's office, which recently handled two of the worst mass trauma events in the nation this year.

Forensic experts at the office in the Medical Center area handled the 21 Robb Elementary School shooting deaths in Uvalde in May and then the June deaths of 53 migrants from an overheated truck.

Those extraordinary cases were on top of an already heavy case load from every day crimes and accidents and the pandemic.

The $628,000 commissioners approved for the ME will allow the office to hire an additional six employees and maintain its crucial accreditation.

The National Association of Medical Examiners does not approve of high caseloads for individual forensic pathologists. That was putting the local ME at risk of losing accreditation.

Medical Examiner Kimberly Molina said their individual annual caseloads this year hit 400, but national accreditation standards require that number to be kept to 250 autopsies a year. The newly funded positions should reduce the workload.

Molina in July described for commissioners her office's efforts to identify all 53 people who died after riding in a sweltering truck trailer.

She said 48 died at the scene and five died later at area hospitals.

Molina said her office staff worked from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. at the scene on Quintana Road after they were summoned there by law enforcement on June 27 and into the next day.

Molina added that they were later assisted by two medical examiners from Travis County and one from Dallas County.

Molina, who has held its top job for well over a year now, asked commissioners to increase funding and staffing at her office at a July commissioners meeting. The new funding kicks in on Oct. 1.

She said their caseload has grown from what could be considered a mid-sized office into a large office. San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the U.S. with an immediate metro population of 1.5 million residents.

There were 117 homicides in San Antonio in 2021 and 183 by the end of August this year, but that figure includes the mass truck deaths.

Commissioners also approved more than $82 million for new county-related facilities, including a new crime lab. The project will stretch into 2023.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian