L.A. is Welcoming a New Coroner. Can He Help Turn Things Around?
Inadequate funding, staff shortages, and piles of dead bodies awaiting belated examination. That’s just a taste of what Dr. Jonathan Lucas can expect when he takes over Los Angeles County’s ailing Coroner’s Office.
Lucas is expected to be formally appointed Tuesday at an annual salary of $350,000. He’ll replace former Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark Fajardo who abruptly resigned in March, calling the situation “nuts.”
If anyone is up to the monumental task, it is the experienced Dr. Lucas, who most recently served as chief deputy medical examiner in San Diego County. He also previously worked for New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner, one of the few coroner’s offices comparable to that of L.A. County.
According to the county’s Chief Executive Office, Lucas has performed over 4,000 forensic autopsies and supervised more than 500 forensic examinations in his career. Perhaps most interesting is Lucas’ specialization in opioid-related deaths. That expertise comes at a time when L.A., like the rest of the nation, is confronting a harrowing opioid epidemic.
As noted, Lucas will join a department in great turmoil. A scathing grand jury report titled “Who Cares for the Dead When the Dead Don’t Vote?” outlined some of the problems at the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner in April, from budget inadequacies and staffing shortages to crippling backlogs. Since then, some improvements have been made, including the hiring of 32 additional employees. But the department still faces potential funding issues and a persistent backlog of pending toxicology reports.
Best of luck to you, Dr. Lucas.