County considers medical examiner position

by April Scheinoha

    The Pennington County Board approved various appointments at its annual reorganizational meeting Tuesday, Jan. 2. The position of county coroner was among them. Dr. Scott Petrescue was appointed county coroner for calendar year 2018. However, commissioners are considering whether the county should use the services of a medical examiner’s office.
    County Board referred the matter to the Law Enforcement Committee. That committee is expected to discuss the matter with Sheriff Ray Kuznia and the new county attorney after the latter person is appointed.
    County Attorney Al Rogalla said the coroner signs the death certificate and authorizes transporting the body to a medical examiner for an autopsy if needed. For the second consecutive year, the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences Department of Pathology is courting Pennington County to perform medical examiner duties for the county. UND performs similar duties for other area counties.
    County Board never formally acted on UND’s request in 2017. If commissioners approved a contract with UND, Rogalla noted that the coroner position would be eliminated and the above duties would be handled by UND.
    In the past, the county has used both UND and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsies when needed. County Auditor-Treasurer Ken Olson said UND conducted most of the county’s autopsies over the past year with the latter office performing a few.
    UND charges on a per-citizen basis. Rogalla didn’t immediately have that amount available at the County Board meeting. He said UND has a package that includes both the autopsy and testimony.
    Rogalla said the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office charges $5,000 each time that office testifies for a particular case. At a minimum, the office would testify at a grand jury proceeding and a jury trial. The autopsy isn’t included in that total.