KCBD Investigates: New Medical Examiner responds to 172 families waiting on death certificates

New medical examiner promises to help families waiting on case backlog

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Two Lubbock sisters have been waiting months to receive their mother’s death certificate after she died in June. Now the new medical examiner, Dr. John Lang, told KCBD Investigates in an exclusive interview that they are not alone. He says there are 172 families stuck in limbo.

“We thought we would have answers by now,” said Tana Powell.

Powell and Haley Kerby spoke to NewsChannel 11’s Investigates on October 10th. “I feel like, will we ever know?" said Kerby. Powell and Kerby are sisters who are still waiting to get their mother’s death certificate after five months.

“The fact that this is going on, I’m just flabbergasted. I don’t have a word. Words fail me that this has been allowed to happen,” Lang said.

Dr. Lang has been Lubbock County’s chief medical examiner for less than one month, and he has already discovered many families who are stuck like those sisters. He says helping them find closure will be his first order of business.

“There’s at least over 100 from the last year, it’s primarily 2019,” he said.

Lang says he has found 172 cases that need to be resolved.

“Those are the ones that are missing the autopsy reports and those are the ones I can’t complete,” said Dr. Lang.

Without that information, he says his hands are tied. “I pleaded with the entity that has those charts, and requested them,” he said.

Dr. Lang is speaking about NAAG, the third party previously contracted by Lubbock County to perform autopsies.

“Those notes are Lubbock County property and we expect those to be returned to us,” said County Commissioner Jason Corley.

Corley says NAAG took all 172 unfinished cases to California after its contract ended.

“For these 172 families, this this is a nightmare,” Corley said.

He says NAAG took autopsy notes, tissues, and test results and made them all inaccessible to Lubbock. This has made death certificates impossible to produce.

The KCBD Investigates Team contacted NAAG about the unfinished cases. They sent us a letter from their lawyers to Lubbock County claiming they made Lubbock County aware of the 172 open cases and that completing them would require more time and money.

“We voted that down. We weren’t going to continue to pay them to do work that they’d already been paid to do,” Corley said.

The letter says NAAG remains ready to come to an agreement. Until then, the families will wait.

“If it were my family that had to wait and didn’t have answers, and we were calling again and again and getting the same message, it breaks my heart, and they deserve better. The citizens of Lubbock County deserve better,” Lang said.

Dr. Lang says the M.E.'s office will continue to process death certificates for the ones he can. Commissioner Corley says he’ll take it all the way to the D.A.'s Office and press charges if he has to.

As for NAAG, we reached out to them for a statement. They say they are still waiting on an official request for the autopsy materials which Lubbock County says they have already provided.

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