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New Hidalgo Co. Population Mark Calls for Death Investigation Upgrades

3 years 5 months 2 weeks ago Wednesday, April 05 2017 Apr 5, 2017 April 05, 2017 5:41 PM April 05, 2017 in News

WESLACO – Hidalgo County is going to operate a new morgue. The county’s forensic pathologist said it’s needed as the county approaches a new population mark.

When Hidalgo County gets to one million people, it’ll trigger a different way of conducting death investigations. The district attorney wants to appoint a medical examiner and death investigators to meet statute.

And at the rate the county is growing, the census said that’ll happen within the next two years.

The county has more equipment, more space and more storage for the task of death investigations. Not more than three weeks ago, county autopsies were done inside a private funeral home.

“The office was actually confined and the morgue was starting to get confined,” Dr. Norma Jean Farley, the county’s forensic pathologist, said.

The census estimates Hidalgo County has nearly 850,000 people. When someone dies suspiciously, by suicide or by car crash, they end up at the morgue for autopsy.

Once Hidalgo County reaches a million, commissioners must consider appointing a medical examiner. Dr. Farley said a medical examiner system means JPS doesn’t investigate a cause of death.

Death investigators do and those investigators need to be hired.

“This building is large enough and is totally capable of being that medical examiner’s office at that point,” Dr. Farley said.

Many of the bodies are John Doe’s and Jane Doe’s who died trying to cross the border illegally. Dr. Farley said the county works to identify at least 60 of them a year.

“A bracelet with their name on it, often they’ll have cell phones,” she said.

Often those cases take additional time to document. And loved ones back in their home country may not know they’re missing.

“So by the time they try looking for them, it may be over a month to two months,” Hidalgo County DA Ricardo Rodriguez said.

It’s the same situation in Brooks County. Rodriguez said the new morgue may be able to help in the future.

“If we have the manpower, if we have the money and be able to budget for that, of course,” he said.

Dr. Farley said in the last few years the county hired two technicians to assist with the number of people found dead trying to cross the border illegally.

Her office works to collect all the identifying features about those people, upload them online and get the word out in order to find a match. 

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