DeLand, FL - The Volusia County Council moves forward with a contract proposal to hire a new interim chief medical examiner less than a month after the old one's complaints about "potentially dangerous" conditions at the county morgue came to light.
Dr. Jon Thogmartin - who has been doing the same kind of work for Pinellas County for nearly 20 years - could start as soon as Saturday, according to the terms of the contract posted in today's VCC meeting agenda.
The agenda item mentioned that the contract could pay Thogmartin up to $900,000 between then and the end of the year, but County Manager Jim Dinneen said during the meeting that the amount has since changed to $780,000, which is comparable to the pay rate he's getting at his current job.
"That gives us time [to hire someone permanent]," Dinneen added.
Thogmartin is the same forensic pathologist who reviewed Volusia's morgue at no cost to the county after Dr. Sara Zydowicz resigned less than a month into her new role. Zydowicz had been working part-time as a medical examiner for Volusia since 2016 before coming aboard full-time to replace the retired Dr. Marie Herrmann.
Dinneen said during the meeting that Thogmartin was recommended to him by Florida Medical Examiner Commission Chairman Dr. Stephen Nelson to review Zydowicz's claims and that talks to bring him on to replace Zydowicz on a temporary basis came after the review.
Following his presentation, Thogmartin said that the county needed to have someone in place by Friday or else it would be serious trouble, especially if no one's in place to handle autopsies for criminal cases.
Council members moved forward with the contract proposal for Thogmartin by a 6-1 vote after his presentation during the meeting, which was complementary to Zydowicz even though he claimed the conditions at the morgue were nowhere near as bad as her letter made it seem.
"It's my impression that when she wrote [the resignation letter], it was not intended for public consumption," Thogmartin noted. "I'm reading [the resignation letter] and talking to [Zydowicz]. When she says 'the critical error, danger, dangerous office,' she's not talking about physical danger to a person. She's talking about danger to her career."
Thogmartin suggested several changes which could be made right away to address some of Zydowicz's concerns and get the department re-accredited by the end of the year, including removing items kept in formaldehyde from the cooler to increase storage space, working on weekends to keep the case backlog down and streamlining procedures so autopsy reports could be processed much faster.
The only "no" vote came from District 4's Heather Post after she raised numerous complaints and objections which weren't answered to her satisfaction, especially with regards to oversight of the medical examiner from Dinneen's office.
"The citizens of Volusia County deserve to have the ME's office run in such a way that they are dealt with respect and not having to wait six months for an autopsy report," Post noted. "We just said a month ago that [Zydowicz] was the greatest thing since sliced bread and now we're vilifying her and saying she's lying in her report."
"I didn't say that," Dinneen responded. "There's never been complaints to the state attorney, or to law enforcement, or to our office."
The back-and-forth exchange between Post and Dinneen about that oversight - which he claimed the state was responsible for - grew so heated at one point that a 10-minute recess was approved by VCC Chair Ed Kelley.
Other VCC members - especially Kelley and District 1's Pat Patterson - objected to some of Post's questioning, with Kelley saying she appeared to be headhunting Dinneen and Patterson calling the whole issue "ginned up".