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Senators Irate Over Failures of Medical Examiner's Office

V.I. senators came down hard on Attorney General Vincent F. Frazer Wednesday over failures concerning the medical examiner’s office.
Senators expressed their frustration to Frazer—who appeared before the Committee on Appropriations and Budget on behalf of the Justice Department—over an incident in St. Croix a few weeks ago, where a man had died inside his home. When the man’s family contacted the medical examiner, they were told that no one could pick up the body because there was no gas in the van.
Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve said his office got lots of calls from outraged citizens. Frazer said the problem was that the van’s driver had neglected to pick up gas coupons to fill up the van. He said the driver has since been fired.
“The problem that arose a couple weeks ago was a matter of personalities,” Frazer said. “We always make sure there are adequate gas coupons.”
Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson said that he has spoken with the fired driver and suggested that he look into a lawsuit. He said the Department of Justice had not followed due process in firing the man and should have listened to both sides before making the decision to terminate someone.
Senators also blasted Frazer over reports that bodies were not being processed in a timely manner by the medical examiner. Sprauve said he had heard that a number of bodies were still waiting to be seen, but Frazer assured him that backlogs in St. Thomas and St. Croix had been taken care of.
The governor has recommended a $21 million budget for Justice – with about $15 million coming from general funds and the remainder from federal funds. Frazer said that the department was planning on using a strategy they adopted last year of seeking more federal funds in an effort to decrease the General Fund request.
Frazer said the department is working hard but is feeling the strain of the tough economic times. He said he would like to increase the number of lawyers working in the department’s Civil Division, which would mean that the government could be more effective in taking on cases on behalf of local citizens.
He said it would also be beneficial to have more staff in the Division of Gaming Enforcement and the Special Investigation Division — however the department is still under the restrictions of the government’s hiring freeze.
Despite money woes, Sen. Michael Thurland said he would make it his personal mission to find funds for an improved crime lab. He asked that the department get him more information about what they needed before the end of the budget process.
Lawmakers also heard from Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs Jr.
Senators used their time with Biggs to query him on common questions and complaints they hear from constituents regarding issues that fall under Biggs’ authority.
Sprauve said that he has heard complaints from citizens who occupy space on Vendor’s Plaza about tents that have been recently issued. Sprauve told Biggs that people have told him that the tents are too small. However, Biggs said the eight-by-eight-foot tents are the right size for vendors’ nine-by-nine rental spaces and that the correct size now allows for more foot traffic and more sales.
The department’s suggested budget for fiscal year 2011 is about $3 million. That number is down 4.66 percent from last year’s budget.
On hand for Wednesday’s hearings were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton “Ital” Dowe, Wayne A.G. James, Nelson, Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, Sammuel Sanes, Sprauve and Thurland.

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