County responds to former medical examiner’s explanation of backlog, provides update on outstanding cases
LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Lubbock County officials sat down with the KCBD Investigates Team following our exclusive interview with former Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sridhar Natarajan.
In that interview, Natarajan answered questions surrounding the backlog at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s office and the changes in management.
Natarajan retired in August 2018 and the county appointed Dr. Sam Andrews as the Interim Chief Medical Examiner.
After Andrews' appointment as Chief Medical Examiner on October 1, he said he discovered a backlog of 427 cases when completing an audit of the office.
The county had already signed a contract with a San Diego based pathology lab to manage the office.
After learning about the outstanding cases, county commissioners agreed to pay that lab, the National Autopsy Assay Group, up to an additional $600,000 to complete the backlog.
On Tuesday, county officials said NAAG’s support staff was currently working on 100 cases, had assigned 55 others to forensic pathologists and had completed or were in the final stages of completing 32 cases.
On Monday, Lubbock Police Chief Greg Stevens told KCBD the human remains discovered in the backyard of a Lubbock home that are connected to the Zoe Campos case were sent off to San Diego for identification.
That is where NAAG is headquartered.
“Evidence has been shipped across the country over the years. We’ve have contracts with different firms to handle the the toxicology reports. Not all of those labs are here in Lubbock,” County Commissioner Bill McCay said.
McCay said he does not have concerns surrounding the chain of custody by sending cases to San Diego. Years ago, McCay said the county had considered contracting with Tarrant County and they did have that concern.
“We had looked at going to Tarrant County, but it would have cost us a considerable amount of funding. It was going to be in the neighborhood of five or six million dollars. That was one aspect of it. The other thing was losing control. So sending a body to Tarrant County that was a concern for the D.A.'s office and the court system of losing that chain of custody,” McCay said.
In our interview with Natarajan, he referenced an October 16 news conference with Dr. Sam Andrews said who said he was unaware of the backlog of cases before his formal appointment on October 1.
However, Natarajan said that Andrews was well aware of the backlog because he had worked at the office on a contract basis for months before taking over.
“You have an individual who has been coming to the office for a year. They took over on August 5. And when you walk in the front door of the medical examiner’s office to your left are all of the files that are open. So the idea of being stunned or shocked or unaware of what’s going on, I don’t accept that,” Natarajan said.
”We had heard in visiting with Dr. Natarajan that there was a backlog of cases and Dr. Andrews‘ role was to work on the cases and submit those to Dr. Natarajan for final review,” McCay said. “Ultimately, it‘s Dr. Natarajan‘s role and responsibility as the chief at that time to sign off on those cases and obviously that wasn’t happening.”
As for the future of the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office, the contract with the NAAG Group runs through the end of the year. Commissioners will then determine what comes next, but for right now, McCay said the priority is to finish the list of outstanding cases.
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