Tippecanoe County Coroner's Office sees another month of record cases

News 18 spoke with the coroner about the continuing problem, what she wants to be done, and how a state law is keeping her from making as much money as other coroners with the same training.

Posted: Jun 22, 2021 6:40 PM
Updated: Jun 22, 2021 8:49 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) -- The Tippecanoe County Coroner's Office has had another month of record cases, and they continue struggling to keep up.

"Nothing is changing," said Tippecanoe County Coroner Carrie Costello. "It's staying pretty consistent."  

She said May was a busy month, and they continue to run out of space.

They've even been borrowing a portable morgue from IU Health to keep up, but Costello said that could change in an instant.

"If there were a mass fatality within the district, they would have to use that cooler," Costello said.

May of 2021 had the second highest number of accepted cases at 53, compared to January of 2020 at 58.

"Population growth, I think, accounts for some of that," Costello said. "The ways the laws have changed over the last 20 years on what we are required to investigate and what's required to be reported also has impacted some of that."

So, Costello is asking for more full time employees and more space.

"I can't make it any bigger which is why I'm asking for an additional cooler," said Costello.

Darin Wolfe works as a forenic pathologist at the coroner's office and performs autopsies.

He said it can be a time consuming process, said increasing capacity would be beneficial to all.

"When you look at the volume that they have here, the number of cases that need to be investigated and the number of autopsies that need to be done, certainly an improvement in the facilities and workforce would make that, I think, a much easier process," said Wolfe.

As we previously reported, the central office is going in the former YMCA building, including every office in the 6th Street building except the coroner.

The coroner's office can't begin to expand until the move, which is expected by October at the earliest, but Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said they're working on it.

"We're going to put some money in the budget to do a space study to at what all that would look like and get some good numbers on how to best incorporate some additional space for that growing department," he said.

Another problem is the building itself. It has one ventilation system for the entire building which currently includes the health department.

She said at one point the smell was so bad during an autopsy, county staff had to leave the building.

Costello also wants an increase in salary. As we've also reported, she said she's among the lowest-paid coroners in the state although the office sees about the fourth largest case load in Indiana.

"What I'm asking for is to be paid equitably and fairly as the other elected officials," Costello said.

Costello said a state statute allows coroners who are also doctors to be paid the base salary plus one-and-a-half times that, but she said coroners who aren't doctors have the same amount of required state training.

"They don't do the autopsies," she said. "That's a misconception. People think the coroners do the autopsies. They don't. We all contract with a pathologist or forensic pathologists."

Murtaugh said they can't change her pay to what it would be if she was a doctor.

That percentage change can't change because I think that's in the statute," said Murtaugh.

Costello said she's being as patient as possible, but said the caseload has everyone working overtime.

"We've outgrown where we were 20 years ago and we need to be able to provide the best service we can to the family and some of that includes growth within our office," she added.

Costello said the commissioners are meeting Friday to discuss the budget proposal.

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