Benton County looks to hire forensic pathologist, first in the county

Madeleine Hagen reports.

KENNEWICK, Wash. — For the first time, Benton County is hiring a forensic pathologist to work alongside Coroner William Leach.

“I can’t even talk about it I was so excited – I was almost dancing to tell you the truth,” Leach laughed.

For years, Leach has been advocating for an in-house forensic pathologist.

A forensic pathologist is the medical doctor who can complete autopsies and officially determine how somebody died.

County commissioner recently approved funding for the position.

“They actually approved it and they gave me $840-something-thousand dollars to hire a doctor, it’s a two-year budget, to hire a doctor and some support staff and buy some additional equipment,” Leach explained.

Currently, Leach’s office utilizes the Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office to complete death investigations and has relied on traveling pathologists. In years past, they even had to travel as far as Snohomish County for their experts.

“There’s a huge shortage nationally and they just don’t want to travel to eastern Washington any more. It’s expensive for us to contract out, and the unfortunate part is, it makes it difficult for law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office if they want to send somebody to go, they lose somebody for a full work day,” Leach said traveling pathologists also get paid per diem which raises the cost of using them.

Not only will an in-house pathologist be more convenient for death investigations, Leach said it’ll expedite just about everything; sometimes they wait months for a final report.

“Makes our investigations so much faster, law enforcement gets a quicker response on what happened, they can carry their investigations quicker, the prosecutor’s office likes it so they can have the forensic pathologist come to them,” he said.

It’ll also bring grieving families closer, quicker.

Leach said Benton County will become the second coroner’s office in Eastern Washington with a forensic pathologist, meaning his office will be able to assist many other nearby counties.

“We’ll be able to contract and do their autopsies and help them in their investigations as well and take a burden off of Spokane County and other counties that are trying to take up the slack. We will unofficially become the regional hub.”

The job has been posted online. Leach said once the person is hired, it’ll take about three months to get the pathologist trained.

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