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Audit finds 50 autopsies unnecessary; coroner calls report a 'farce'

GENEVA – An autopsy audit prompted by overspending in the Kane County Coroner’s Office determined nearly one-third of the 160 autopsies reviewed were unnecessary, according to a report by former Coroner Mary Lou Kearns.

“It is my professional opinion that approximately 50 cases [individual deaths] did not require an autopsy to determine the cause of death,” she wrote.

Kearns was hired to review the 2013 autopsies as a way to provide guidance for the future.

“I simply ask that you moderate and balance your self-assurance and spending patterns in this your first administrative, management and political term ... based on the experience and advice of a former coroner who distinguished herself in public service for 23 years in the exact same position in which you currently serve,” Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen wrote in a letter sent Thursday to Coroner Rob Russell.

Lauzen said Kearns was paid $10,600 for the consultation.

“This entire report was a farce,” Russell said, noting it was “clearly intended” to embarrass him – not to help him.

Reading from a prepared two-page statement, Russell addressed the Judicial and Public Safety Committee on Friday about it.

“The same autopsy files that the consultant reviewed after an absence of 15 years from her last death investigation have been reviewed by the coroners of DuPage, McHenry, Kankakee and LaSalle counties without any cost to the Kane County taxpayer,” Russell said.

“Their findings are at a complete and total variance from those of Ms. Kearns, and fully support the decisions of my office. Their combined expertise and experience is far more informed and credible than the superficial report you and I received yesterday evening.”

Lauzen had few comments Friday.

“My letter speaks for itself, and the report speaks for itself,” the chairman said.

His letter included the financial impact of conducting unnecessary autopsies.

“I recognize that you have 100 percent complete authority to spend taxpayer money on every autopsy you desire, and that Ms. Kearns’ review will not and does not intend to change the history of your decisions,” Lauzen wrote.

“However, at $1,150 per typical procedure, these 50 autopsies cost potentially $51,500 [sic], and during a four-year term in office, these decisions represent $230,000 in total ... or nearly one-quarter of $1 million of possible unnecessary spending. If all county agencies and departments overspend in a similar way, property taxes will be increased.”

Russell is about 6.3 percent over budget and unsuccessfully sought a budget adjustment of about $140,000.

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