Coroner's Office subject of criminal investigation - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Coroner's Office subject of criminal investigation

Jane Austin Taylor Jane Austin Taylor
Jason Thornhill Jason Thornhill
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October 3, 2003

Albany- The GBI is looking into how the coroner is spending county money. The expenses in the Dougherty County Coroner's office have soared since Jane Austin-Taylor was elected.

The GBI is looking into the possibility that the county is being overcharged for work that is not even being done.

At noon Friday, GBI agents hauled off a filing cabinet from the Dougherty County Coroner's office. It contains records they will use to determine whether coroner Jane Austin-Taylor has been illegally billing the county.

One thing they're looking into is an allegation that the county has been charged $100 per case for work never performed by Austin-Taylor's handpicked Medical Examiner, Dr. Jacob Shirley.

We're told there are also allegations of double-dipping; charging the county for a coroner and a deputy coroner to work the same call.

Jane Austin Taylor was elected coroner in 2000, when she defeated Bucky Brookshier. Almost immediately, she was publicly criticized for her spending.

Everytime the coroner shows up to pronounce someone dead, the county gets a bill for $125. Austin-Taylor has been accused of gouging the county by responding unnecessarily to calls just to get paid for them.

In a February 2001 interview, deputy coroner Jason Thornhill said: "She's making every case a coroner's case and it shouldn't be. It's a waste of taxpayers' money."

And it's not necessary for a coroner to respond to all death calls, but Austin-Taylor is responding to far more of them than the previous coroner. In fact, since she took office in January 2001, the number of coroner calls and charges to the county have more than doubled.

Last fiscal year, Austin-Taylor charged the county for about 20 death calls per month at a cost of $29,125. In contrast, Bucky Brookshier, charged the county for about 12 calls per month for a total cost of $18,650.

And all this spending has translated into budget overruns for Austin Taylor. The coroner's office had a budget of $78,301 for the fiscal year just ended. She overspent by more than $5,500 to bump the cost to taxpayers up to $83,808.

By comparison, for fiscal year 1999-2000, Brookshier's budget was $81,500, but he spent nearly $20,000 less than he was budgeted and used only $61,828 of his budget.

All this is information contained in the very records the GBI seized today to determine if there is any criminal activity in the Dougherty County Coroner's office.

We tried to talk with Jane Austin Taylor about all this. We were told by her secretary that she's out of town for the weekend.

posted at 3:40AM by dave.miller@walb.com