Permian Basin Forensic Center Not Accepting Any New Autopsy Cases

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

ODESSA--The reason why is still a mystery but the repercussions are overwhelming.

The center is used by more than 29 West Texas counties and it's helped take some of the bite off of autopsy expenses.  But, as of last week, that's coming to an end.

The PBFC has only been open for a year and two months. In that time, they performed over 236 autopsies. With little to no advanced notice, they found out last Wednesday, the last case they got, was because of the last case.

"This is not what we expected to be faced with, in 14 months, to be quite frank," Business Manager, Carl Rogers, said.

Performing 236 autopsies in a year's time for 29 counties in West Texas is quite a feat. Just ask the people who performed them.

Dr. Tommy Brown, owner of parent company, Southeast Forensics Center in Beaumont told them, they won't be doing so anymore.

According to Rogers, "If they need autopsies done, at this point, they are relegated to going back to the prospect of traveling longer distances to facilities that have a much heavier work load."

Those 29 counties include Ector, Andrews, Howard and even counties in New Mexico. Having a forensic center in their own backyard was saving thousands of dollars. Now, they're faced with having to go back to Lubbock or Tarrant County.

"The longer travel comes at a much higher cost to the taxpayers of those individual counties," Rogers added.

Andrews County Justice of the Peace, Neri Flores, says the counties aren't the only ones that are going to be seriously affected, "It's going to be an inconvenience to families. For those who have to pick up the bodies and have to travel longer distance to get our autopsies done."

The center recently lost a forensic pathologist. Rogers says losing that doctor may have played a part in the decision for closing.  Other than that, they know very little else. The remaining staff of three is now forced into a very uncomfortable situation.

"To be going through what we're going through, now, with the closing of the facility, couple that with the prospect of unemployment, it's a double blow to these staff members that have made this facility what it's been," Rogers added.

There are some hopeful options for the forensic center. A single county can take over operation of the facility or several counties form a joint partnership operating the facility with co-ownership.

"We were glad that this one was opening up. It was a lot closer, more convenient for the families and for the funeral homes here," Flores said.

Rogers has been a long time supporter of this type of venture and given it's short lived track record, he says he will continue to be so, "I think that speaks very highly for the need, the necessity of having this kind of facility out in this West Texas area."

NewsWest 9 attempted to contact Southeast Forensic Center in Beaumont for a comment.  We were told Dr. Tommy Brown was not willing to give a statement at this time.