Faster forensic work needed
It took 16 days to find out a cocaine overdose killed Claudia Torres, a sixth-grader at South Tahoe Middle School. The day after Torres’ death, police interviewed their prime suspect, Jose Rodriguez Perez, a 23-year-old from South Lake Tahoe. They did not arrest him because Torres’ toxicology results had not come back from Sacramento. Now Rodriguez “is in the wind,” as South Lake Tahoe Police Detective Sgt. Tom Conner puts it.
Police and Sheriff’s deputies say the Torres case is one example of the fact that it is taking too long to get results from forensic autopsies and toxicology tests.
In the fall, a sergeant and the deputy coroner from the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Tahoe substation visited the Washoe County Morgue. Their goal was to start wheels in motion that would allow South Shore forensic cases to be investigated at Washoe County.
“All the initial work was done and passed along at the end of October last year and we’re still waiting,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Johnston.
It’s June and an agreement has not been reached. If a working relationship is established, Johnston believes the turnaround time for forensics will be quicker, therefore helping investigators. He said it is a fact that working with a morgue at Washoe would be a lot more convenient as far as transportation.
Nancy Egbert, the sheriff’s director of administrative service, said the county is in preliminary stages of conversation with Washoe and she hopes something is finalized by July.
“It’s a sheriff’s department issue because the sheriff is coroner,” she said. “The preliminary conversations we’ve had have not been formal. But they have indicated they would provide service.”
Right now the sheriff’s department sends autopsies to the Placer County Morgue. If the sheriff’s department reaches an agreement with Washoe, its relationship with Placer County will not end, the department will just have two options for forensic work.
“These guys are slow, we don’t get the results back in a fair amount of time,” Johnston said. “We’re looking to have Washoe County perform forensic autopsies with the doctors they have on staff.”
A detective who works under Police Sgt. Tom Conner said Washoe could have determined in one day what caused Claudia Torres’ death.
“They could tell us that day with an emergency priority deal,” Conner confirmed. “Sacramento can’t do that, it’s plain and simple. I suspect it’s the sheer volume they deal with.”
Investigation of an apparent murder/suicide case has also been delayed by criminal testing. Robert Barr was found dead April 23 in a Tahoe Keys lagoon from a suspected suicide. El Dorado County Sheriff’s investigators still haven’t gotten his final autopsy report.
Reports for his wife Rebecca Barr, a 45-year-old discovered shot to death in the woods by Fallen Leaf Lake, took more than two months to get back to South Lake Tahoe investigators.
Mike Gregor, assistant coroner for El Dorado Sheriff’s Department, said the time it takes for law enforcement to get forensic test results is average.
“It depends on how busy the doctors are,” he said. “Unfortunately these doctors don’t only contract with us.
“They (investigators) take the case and are enthusiastic to make the case but the process takes longer than with other crimes.”
Gregor said he hopes a contract is made with Washoe because of convenience.
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