AUSTIN (KXAN) — After waiting more than three months for the autopsy to be returned for his wife, one Travis County man is voicing concerns about whether it should take so long for autopsies to be completed.
Russ [last name withheld] says his wife’s death was sudden and unexpected. Now, because he has yet to receive her autopsy, he says it’s adding insult to injury.
“If you knew her, you couldn’t help but love her. She was a light,” Russ explained, getting emotional. “She was the light of my life… just a wonderful woman.”
Russ tells KXAN News his wife, Geri, passed away unexpectedly on Nov. 14, 2018 after what he thought was a routine surgery. She had been home from the hospital for a few hours when her husband was forced to call 911 because she didn’t have a pulse. EMS transported Geri to a hospital in Williamson County where she was pronounced dead.
After meeting in college, the couple had been married almost 37 years.
“It just seems absurd to take over three months and still not have a timeframe for it. When you’re going through something like this, you know you got grief and you’ve got, closure that you want to settle,” he explained. “Plus, you’ve got legal items that need to be settled and you can’t do that without a final death certificate.”
It’s now been more than 15 weeks since Geri’s autopsy was performed — left, still, with no answers surrounding her death.
More than a year after the county transitioned into its new state-of-the-art medical examiner’s office, Russ has concerns about whether the investment was really worth it.
The Travis County Commissioners Court approved $23.3 million in funding for the new office in March 2015. The project came in $4 million under budget. The transition to the new office happened in October 2017.
Russ says something needs to change.
“I know it can’t bring my wife back. But, it happened so suddenly and she was in good health, and so young, that I just need — we all need closure and I think we deserve it,” Russ continued. “It just bothers me. With a new facility and all the taxes we pay, why something so basic as an autopsy, could take so long?”
The Travis Co. Medical Examiner’s Office doesn’t only serve county residents, like Russ and Geri. The ME’s office performs autopsies for 43 other counties across the state, including places as far away as College Station and Odessa. Travis County charges the others for their services.
Until our interview, Russ was unaware that the office took on autopsies from so many other counties.
“I can’t fathom that. I don’t know how. I wonder how many — just since my wife’s death — how many people they’ve processed. That seems like an enormous amount of load to put on any one institution,” he added.
When asked for comment on this case, representatives with Travis County provided KXAN this statement Tuesday:
“Whenever a case is referred to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office from an outside county, we must defer all press questions to the Justice of the Peace of the referring County. With regards to the amount of time it takes to produce an autopsy report, that will vary from case to case.”
These concerns come after serious questions have been raised in recent weeks about a former Travis County medical examiner — Dr. Sam Andrews — who moved to Lubbock to take a job as the chief medical examiner. During his short time working in Lubbock County, Andrews, along with Dr. Evan Matshes, have been sued. The lawsuit claims the doctors are responsible for taking body parts from a dead child without permission.
At a ceremony for the new medical examiner building opening, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, remarked that people laughed when he said, in 2011, a new morgue was among his top 10 list of goals for the area for the next decade.
In Sen. Watson’s Sept. 2011 speech on medical education in Austin, he named “bolstering the medical examiner’s office” as a priority. Watson said, “Our Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office is already stretched beyond its resources. If, as part of this effort, we can locate the medical examiner’s department near the medical school, it would help students and doctors for decades. Because, the fact is, autopsies are essential to medical education.”
We reached out to representatives with his office Tuesday for comment, but it was suggested we contact Travis County.