Rise in autopsy requests, costs drive coroner budget increase

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Bonner County commissioners voted July 16 to approve a $20,000 budget increase for Bonner County Coroner Robert Beers, responding to increased costs and an inordinately high number of autopsies performed during the current fiscal year.

The increase, drawn from the county’s contingency fund, raises the coroner’s 2019 budget from $31,785 to $51,785.

Beers said this is partly due to a recent rise in the cost of an autopsy. He said Bonner County autopsies, performed by the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, cost $2,119 — not including the cost of room rental, body transport, lab work, toxicology reports or X-rays. In total, each autopsy costs Bonner County taxpayers $2,500-$3,000.

Autopsies are most often requested in cases where the deceased is 50 years old or younger with no significant medical history to explain the death. Of the 14 autopsies Beers has requested during the current fiscal year, he said six were ruled accidental; three were homicides, with the deaths of Joshua Cole, James Costello Jr. and Robert Hegseth-Wohali; two were suicides; one was natural; and two are still under investigation. 

Beers said he budgets for 15 autopsies each year. With two months remaining in the budget and that threshold nearly met, Beers said a financial boost was necessary.

The recent spike in autopsies reflects a larger trend Beers sees at the coroner’s office. In the 2017 calendar year, Beers said the county investigated a total of 122 deaths — 52 by mid-July. In 2018, those numbers fell slightly: 104 total deaths with 40 by midyear. So far in 2019, Beers said his office has investigated 65 cases — five more than were handled in all of 2012.

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