The Governor’s Office of Greg Abbott has awarded the 81st Judicial District Attorney’s office with a grant in full to fund a regional medical examiner’s office to be located in Pleasanton.
The $10,819,448 grant will fund the 11,000-square-foot facility, medical examiner’s equipment and toxicology instruments needed to have a full toxicology lab.
“I am so grateful to Governor Abbott’s Office for recognizing our dire need for a regional medical examiner’s office and believing in our vision,” said 81st Judicial District Attorney Audrey Louis. “Based on the estimates we received from other recently built medical examiner’s offices in Ft. Bend and Montgomery County, this grant should cover the FULL cost of construction, the equipment needed for the two forensic pathologists and their staff, as well as all the instruments needed to equip a complete toxicology lab.”
Atascosa County Commissioners approved land located off of Highway 281 in Pleasanton in August for the construction of a medical examiner’s office as a part of the 81st/218th Judicial District’s office.
The parcel of land is located behind the Atascosa County Justice of the Peace building located at 2136 Second Street in north Pleasanton. Louis recommended the parcel of land to county commissioners.
According to Louis, all autopsies pre-pandemic for Atascosa, Frio, Wilson and Karnes were sent to Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office (BCME). However, during COVID, the BCME Office became overloaded and was unable to take any autopsy cases outside of Bexar County with no intention or ability to reopen to outside counties.
Louis said the Nueces County Medical Examiner and a private forensic pathologist in Lockhart have been providing services to the Atascosa County area. But like BCME, these offices are also experiencing a drastic increase in cases, in part because of the increase in migrant deaths, which in turn means autopsy results for law enforcement, JPs and families waiting for answers which can sometimes take up to a year.
“Families deserve to have answers about the death of their loved ones quickly,” Louis added. “Once complete, our district will no longer be at the mercy of other medical examiners’ offices, often waiting up to a year for autopsy results.”
Louis told Atascosa County Judge Weldon Cude and commissioners on Monday morning during Commissioners Court that the next steps are to create a governing board with members from the fivecounty region of Atascosa, Wilson, Karnes, Frio and La Salle Counties that make up the 81st/218th Judicial District.
“This is a huge blessing for our district and all South Texas! We have long relied on autopsy services from other areas,” Louis added. “Once open, the medical examiner’s office will train justices of the peace on protocols for requesting an autopsy. However, we’ve got a full year’s worth of work to build the best facility for South Texas.”
Commissioners agreed to continue discussions on the governing board at a special called meeting of the commissioners on Monday, Nov. 20.