‘I’m at the mercy of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’: Autopsy delays impacting Muscogee County morgue

Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 11:30 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - While violent crime is down lately in the Fountain City, officials say the county morgue is still overflowing. Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan says the problem is leading to delays with autopsy results.

He says the county morgue can hold eight bodies. But, he says they responded to 1,250 death investigations last year alone. Last year’s record-homicide rate is a huge factor. But, Bryan says they also sometimes respond to death investigations from surrounding areas like Chattahoochee and Stewart Counties.

“The bad part about it is these families, you know they’re grieving the whole time. And they’re having to tolerate the time element before they can have a service for their loved one and show closure,” said Bryan.

Bryan says outside of Atlanta - Columbus has the most deaths than any other city in the state of Georgia. Bodies across Muscogee County are transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab in Decatur. Bryan says the problem has gotten so out of hand, they’ve had to hold bodies longer. He says when he was first elected in the office in 2013, there were five crime labs. But due to budget cuts, two of those labs were closed.

“I’m apologetic to the families, but I’m at the mercy of the GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigations Medical Examiner’s Office. I can’t push him to do anything any different,” said Bryan.

He’s told his deputies to be very selective about which bodies to transport for an autopsy first. For example, homicides and suspicious deaths involving people under 40 without primary care go first. He adds the problem has even impacted the family of three-year-old Kendrick Engram Jr., the little boy who was found dead in a hot car at a Columbus restaurant last Sunday.

“Funeral homes are calling us. Funeral homes are complaining about the condition that the bodies are coming back in,” said Bryan. “When I took office in 2013, we did 626 Death investigations. We had 26 homicides. Last year we did 1,250 death investigations, we had 70 homicides. This year, we’re 20 homicides, and we’re having less homicide.”

But, he says homicides are only a small portion of the death investigations they respond to on a daily basis. On average, there are 70 suicides, accidental deaths and overdoses across the county each year.

Bryan says they are currently looking for additional space. He also mentioned delays with toxicology reports, which he says can take three or four months to come back.

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