More room for every body at new Sheriff's Office morgue

clambert@thetribunenews.comAugust 28, 2012 

For the first time in its history, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office will have its own, separate facility to conduct autopsies or medical examinations.

The 2,600-square-foot medical examination facility, in a modern, tan-and-white building at 835 Aerovista Place in San Luis Obispo, will give the three-person coroner’s team better ventilation, a larger refrigeration system and an autopsy suite with two exam tables.

The coroner’s team currently conducts autopsies and medical examinations once a week at Los Osos Valley Mortuary. The team’s current offices are at the Sheriff’s Office on Kansas Avenue off Highway 1.

“This is huge,” said Jeff Nichols, a detective coroner who has worked nearly six years with the team, which investigates every suspicious death and signs off on every death certificate those areas of the Sheriff’s Office that flew under the radar for most people.”

The new facility will allow detective coroners to work faster and more efficiently, Nichols said.

“Now, if we have to re-examine someone, we have to leave our (office), drive 20 minutes, do the exam and drive 20 minutes back,” he said.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the improved ventilation system will protect employees and other investigators who visit the facility. A separate room allows investigators to view an autopsy through a window without having to be in the same room.

Nichols said the Sheriff’s Office plans to hire someone, likely a retired mortician, on a part-time contract basis to clean up on days in which autopsies are completed.

The county will pay $60,000 annually to lease the facility from WestPac Companies — a little less than the county is paying now to use the private mortuary’s facility.

Funds to purchase and install the specialized equipment, the refrigeration unit and the ventilation system came from the nonprofit San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Advisory Foundation and asset forfeiture funds, or money from the seizure of illegally gained assets from suspected criminals.

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