Why the wait from GBI on autopsies?

Why the wait from GBI on autopsies?

We often report in criminal cases that the victim's body will be taken to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab for an autopsy, but in most cases, families like Michael's Boone's wait much longer than they want - in agony.

"I go through every day wondering what happened," Cindy Boone said.

Cindy Boone's son Michael was found dead in the woods of Eastman, Georgia in May. His initial medical examination autopsy from the GBI came back within a matter of days revealing no physical trauma, but now nearly 2 months after his body was found, the Boone family just now got the results of the toxicology samples providing the final determination of death.

"Toxicologists are looking at those drugs in the body in blood, urine samples," Brian Hargett said. "And not only the blood but the metabolites and what your body does with those drugs after they've been consumed."

Hargett is the lab manager for the GBI Crime Lab in Macon. He said that if a determination of death cannot be made in a medical examination, the next likely step is to submit toxicology samples.

Hargett said their GBI Crime Lab in Macon is one of seven in Georgia and one of three that perform the pathology medical examination autopsies. That means the central Georgia lab covers more than just their own area, but a total of 50 counties across the state.

Hargett said they've seen a 49 percent increase in pathology cases over the last year. So not only is the Macon lab sometimes overwhelmed but so is the Atlanta crime lab. That's where Hargett said they send their toxicology samples along with every other lab in the state.

He said there are a number of factors in why autopsies that require further testing take longer. Hargett said there are several areas where the GBI has staff shortages creating a backlog of cases.

He said there's been an increase in the complexity of the death cases they're seeing which hasn't helped the backlog issue.

He also said that sometimes pathologists have to wait on further evidence from the case the GBI is working or previous medical records for the victim - like in Eurie Martin's case.

Martin was the man who was shocked with a stun gun and later died during his arrest by Washington County, Georgia deputies.

Hargett said he can't say what caused Martin's death, but that underlying medical conditions have to be taken into consideration for an autopsy - and getting those medical records can take time. 

"A Taser is a less-than-lethal instrument and it may affect people differently based on their underlying medical conditions," Hargett said.

Hargett also said some cases may take priority over others like with the drug overdoses that swept the state last month.

"Public health concern with those cases we wanted to identify what those drugs were, try to aid the investigation as best we could," Hargett said. "So those were given priority."

"What happened? All the time you think about what happened," Boone said.

Hargett said he knows the families of these victims want answers and they're working to get them. But even when the answers come, Boone realizes they won't bring back her son. 

© 2017 WMAZ-TV


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