Baldwin County Coroner seeks to expand office as population rises

Guy Busby
Government Editor
guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 10/26/22

FOLEY — With the number of coroner cases almost doubling since 2010, Baldwin County Coroner Brian Pierce said the county needs to expand death investigation and forensics services.Pierce met …

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Baldwin County Coroner seeks to expand office as population rises

Posted

FOLEY — With the number of coroner cases almost doubling since 2010, Baldwin County Coroner Brian Pierce said the county needs to expand death investigation and forensics services.

Pierce met with county commissioners at a work session Monday, Oct. 17. He proposed a new forensics investigations building that would provide needed space for his office and the forensics investigators with the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office.

He said coroner cases have increased from 353 in 2010 to 663 in 2021. That trend will increase as the number of residents and visitors grows, Pierce said.

"Based on the past 10 years, we can expect about 750 cases by 2025, almost 900 corner cases by 2030. So, we need to be prepared, so that when that call comes in, we know what we're doing," Pierce said. "We're looking to prepare for the next 25 to 30 years."

He said that in addition to the growing population, the number of visitors also increases demand. Pierce said tourists can double the county's population up to as many as 500,000.

The estimated cost of the proposed building is about $5 million. That cost did not include some autopsy equipment and other items expected to be needed in the future, according to Pierce's report.

Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood said she supported improving services, but that the county does not have the money for the facility.

"I want to see that be doable and I saw that price tag that's on the next page and there's not a funding source particularly for that right now," Underwood said of the $5-million price. "So, obviously it would be nice to have all that together, but at the same time you're saying that's not even completely finished out."

Pierce said some funding sources for the expansion could include cremation fees and an increase in county lodging taxes.

Sheriff Huey "Hoss" Mack said the new building would also provide space for forensics investigators in his office. He said the building would be located on property next to the current investigations office and would improve access for officers working on death investigations.

The sheriff said the current investigations office has outgrown its capacity since it was built in 1995.

"It was built for a total of 12 investigators to be in that office will probably work in excess of over 20 people out of that office and that includes task force," Mack said. "We've internally remodeled that building four times. All garage spaces turn into office space, added space which turned into a conference room and another area. We currently have several deputies, several investigators that are sharing offices. What would happen is there's currently five people that are assigned to the forensic team. Those five people would be the ones that would be moving out of the investigation command into this building."

Pierce said expansion would also help the county be prepared for mass casualty events. He said the county does not now have the capability to deal with situations in which a great many victims die at the same time.

He said some preparations are being made. The county now has access to a mobile temporary morgue through the Alabama Department of Public Health. The morgue could be set up in Baldwin County during emergencies.

Pierce said the county is also working on cooperative agreements to allow death investigators with different departments to work on cases in other areas if needed.

"For example, we could reach out to the death investigators in Spanish Fort to assist us with a mass fatality in Orange Beach," Pierce said. "And likewise, if we had something in Orange Beach area, we could reach out to Daphne or Spanish Fort to assist us."

Pierce said outside agencies would also assist the county, but that help would not be available immediately. He cited the hurricane preparation advice that says residents and officials need to be ready to deal with situations for at least three days, 72 hours, before help arrives.

"They would come, but probably not for a day or two," Pierce said. "It would take a little while to get them mobilized to get them here. So just like a hurricane, the first 72's on you, the first 72's on us. So, what are we going to do?"

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