Friday's storm apparently knocked out the lights at the Marion County coroner's office. It was, coincidentally, the same day that its soon-to-be-departed team of forensic pathologists had threatened to quit taking on new autopsies.
Whether the chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Stephen Radentz, will show up Monday to turn the lights back on was unclear.
In a heated dispute full of accusations and leaks to the news media, Coroner Kenneth Ackles and Radentz have stopped nearly all communication. Ackles earlier this year terminated a five-year contract with Radentz's firm, an order that takes effect Dec. 19. Ackles has yet to give any explanation for the termination.
Ackles has apparently been trying to hire a Virginia forensic pathologist with a troubled past, though he won't confirm the potential hiring of Dr. Joye Carter.
Radentz offered last week to continue taking autopsy cases until the end of his contract, even though he said the normal practice is to have a months-long transition period.
But by Friday, when he got no response from any city or coroner officials, he said he would not work alongside the new hire and may not come in at all Monday.
The next chapter in this saga won't be known until then.
So when tomorrow rolls around, we may or may not have a licensed forensic pathologists at work in the coroner's office. Ackles, meanwhile, seems not at all concerned about the crisis surrounding his office based on an interview he gave the Star's Jon Murray. To hear Ackles explain it, it's just a bunch of disgrunted Republicans. "I think Republicans had this office for 50 years. . . . And I've been in office for one year and 11 months, and everything that I do is wrong," he tells Murray. He says the average person in his office has worked there for 15 or 20 years, and "I got the same people." In fact, several of the more qualified persons have left the office since Ackles took over and have been replaced by people with virtually no experience.
Murray's interview takes a turn towards the comical when Ackles actually claims he's more qualified than his predecessor, Dr. James McGoff, an emergency room physician, in response to Murray's suggestion that his lack of qualifications is a source of criticism against him. He responds:
No. It might have a little impact, but the main criticism, I don't need to tell you what it is. Me being a chiropractor, technically I'm more qualified than the guy that had the office. You know why? I'm a businessperson. I've been in business for 20 years. I do accident cases, I've been to court, I know depositions, I know lawyers and I know how to run a business.
The thought "accidental coroner" comes to mind as Ackles explains to Murray how he come to run for the office. "I have to laugh about that first." "It was strictly by accident." "I was asked to run, and I checked it out and couldn't see any reason why I didn't want to run." He doesn't say who specifically asked him to run for the office other than to concede it was a person from the Marion Co. Democratic Party. He also concedes that the power of the office was an allure to him. He tells Murray:
I think maybe power. I found out the coroner's office has a lot of power. I never thought about it. . . . Once I was elected, it was about two or three weeks before I came to the office. They had lunches for me, and I never showed up.
Well, I'll tell you why. I had to figure it out. I believe that. Once I decided to do something, I always make it. And I had not decided . . . I had to -- being the coroner -- figure out the situation.
You see, I'm kind of an emotional guy . . . I'm a very passionate guy, that's why I'm good for this job. When a decedent dies, I feel it. You know, I do. I do . . .
When you really look at it, I'm blessed. I'm really blessed. And it's a little discomfort. But you know, let's face it. Martin Luther King paved the way, and by golly, I'm the coroner of Marion County.
Pretty scary when you stop to think about what Ackles said in this interview.