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Justice Department Claims Medical Examiner Will Pick Up Dead Bodies

After St. John Rescue decided that, effective Sept. 18, it would no longer transport dead bodies from where they died to the morgue at Myrah Keating Community Health Center because it doesn’t have a contract, the Justice Department announced Tuesday that the job would fall to the Medical Examiner’s Office until it finalizes contract negotiations with the volunteer organization.

While the Medical Examiner’s Office can get to St. John from its base in St. Thomas during the hours that the barge is running in both directions, according to St. John Rescue chief training officer Bob Malacarne, the body could remain where it died until the next day if the barges aren’t running. The barges stop operations in the early evening.

Before St. John Rescue stopped transporting the deceased, the organization’s members took them to Myrah Keating. The Medical Examiner’s Office picked the bodies up from there.

Malacarne said that Emergency Medical Services doesn’t transport bodies because it would tie up vehicles and staff that may be needed to respond to an emergency.

“There is no vehicle on St. John to transport bodies except for Rescue vehicles,” Malacarne said.

He said there had been no instances where dead bodies needed to be transported since St. John Rescue stopped doing it Sept. 18.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Wayne Anderson did not respond to a late afternoon phone call requesting more information.

According to the press release, the negotiations will “put the necessary protocols in place in anticipation of the expanded role that St. John Rescue will play in assisting the Medical Examiner’s Office in transporting the bodies of deceased individuals.” It indicates the Justice Department expects the process to conclude “shortly.”

Malacarne said he hasn’t spoken to anyone in the Attorney General’s Office since Sept. 16 or 17 when he told the agency that, if St. John Rescue didn’t get a contract, it would cease picking up dead bodies on Sept. 18.

While he said previously that St. John Rescue has its own standard operating procedure for transporting bodies, the organization wants a contract with the government because of liability issues.

Malacarne said St. John Rescue has been trying to get a contract since about 2007. It took on the job in 2006 after the retirement of a person who worked part-time for the Medical Examiner’s Office on St. John.

Malacarne said the organization transports about 10 dead bodies a year.

On another topic, Malacarne said St. John Rescue has been trying for a year to get signed a memorandum of understanding between the organization and both the Emergency Medical Services and the Fire Service so it can provide free oxygen from its oxygen generator. Malacarne said V.I. National Park and Myrah Keating have signed.

In its press release, the Department of Justice reminded residents that should you discover “the body of a deceased individual on the island of St. John, St. Thomas, St. Croix or Water Island, you should first call 911 Emergency and/or the Virgin Islands Police Department and the Medical Examiner’s Office.”

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