New Building Brings Kitsap Coroner’s Office Into the 21st Century

For years, Kitsap County’s death investigations have been conducted in a dilapidated house on Sidney Avenue in Port Orchard that fire officials had condemned as uninhabitable.

“This is a county of almost 250,000,” Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom said, “and we’ve been working out of a house that isn’t even legal to occupy.”

Thanks to decades of lobbying the county commissioners, years of planning and 3.6 million taxpayer dollars, that has all changed. The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office, which not long ago had one of the most antiquated autopsy facilities in the state, now has one of the most sophisticated.

It is located off Union Avenue in West Bremerton, near the Kitsap Readiness Center and Pendergast Park. The new facility has been in use since early June.

“It’s probably the best one right now in the state,” said Dr. Emmanuel Q. Lacsina, a private forensic pathologist who has a contract to perform the county’s autopsies at $1,200 a pop. “It’s just like a dream come true.”

The former Kitsap County Coroner’s Office had one “station” for autopsies and an old walk-in cooler that had been donated by the Navy and could hold up to 10 bodies. The cooler had a habit of breaking down from time to time.

And each time a body was taken to or from the old house, it was in full view of the public, a security issue given the high-stakes nature of some death investigations.

Since the investigations that take place inside a coroner’s office often contribute evidence to criminal cases and lawsuits, a shoddy facility just wasn’t good enough, Jan Angel said.

Angel was a proponent of the new facility when she was a Kitsap County commissioner. She is now a Republican state legislator.

“You’ve gotta make sure you have a facility where you’re able to do the job,” she said.

The new facility has three autopsy stations and room for a fourth. Two coolers in the facility have a combined capacity of 20 bodies.

There’s also an “isolation” cooler for bodies that have decomposed or are badly diseased.

And there is ventilation.

In the old facility, the odor of death was inescapable. The new office has three ventilation systems — one in the office, one in the examination room, and another in the isolation exam room — to ensure the smell does not permeate the walls of the 6,500-square-foot facility.

“We don’t have to deal with that smell,” said Lacsina, who performed his first autopsy at the old county facility in 1984.

There’s also a conference room in which office staff can talk to grieving families. A monitor in that room allows family to view loved ones’ remains to confirm identity.

Such a gesture helps some relatives with closure, Sandstrom said.

The new facility also benefits detectives, who no longer have to don scrubs and be in the room where the autopsy is conducted. Instead, they can watch from behind glass and snap pictures using a camera suspended over the body.

The new building also includes office space for Sandstrom, his chief deputy coroner Al Gerdes, and a team of four to five deputy coroners. Previously, the administrative offices were in a different building.

Sandstrom said he plans to talk with officials from smaller neighboring counties about having their death investigations done in Kitsap. That would give them the benefits of the new facilities, and since Lacsina conducts other counties’ death investigations, it would give him a central place to do business.

Sandstrom is also looking into the possibility of renting out some coroner’s office space to medical harvesters, who remove body parts such as skin to be used for burn victims.

Sandstrom believes the facility can last at least 30 years.

See the new coroner’s office

A community grand opening for the new Kitsap County Coroner’s Office will be held at 1 p.m. July 8. The new office is located at 5010 Linden Street, next to the Kitsap Readiness Center.

What does the coroner’s office investigate?

The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office conducts death investigations on people who died in traumatic or suspicious circumstances. They also perform investigations on most infants who’ve died or people who die in the Kitsap County jail.

Originally posted by Josh Farley on Jun 30, 2009 for the Kitsap Sun