By Elena Cawley, Staff Writer Coffee County Medical Examiner Dr. Albert Brandon has appointed Dr. Jay Trussler to serve as a deputy medical examiner for the county. Trussler, a practicing physician in Manchester specializing in family medicine, was sworn in to the voluntary position on Wednesday.
“I am looking forward to being a part of the team,” Trussler said. “Dr. Brandon has always been my mentor since my pre-med days all the way through med school and residency. He’s been outstanding and has always supported me. I am honored to be a part of this team.” The team includes another deputy medical examiner, Dr. Bill George of Tullahoma, said Brandon. “He is a cardiologist, has military experience and has been very good to help out,” Brandon said. “Now we have Dr. Trussler as county medical examiner, as well.” Brandon said he appreciates Trussler joining the team. Medical examiner Brandon has served as a medical examiner for Coffee County for 45 years. A medical examiner is appointed by the county mayor and is approved by the county legislative body, based on a recommendation from local physicians, according to the state government website, www.tn.gov. The services provided by the county medical examiner include conducting death investigations; providing an opinion as to the cause of death; completing of death certificates; issuing cremation permits; ordering an autopsy when necessary to determine cause and manner of death; and interacting with local and state government officials and departments. “For the past 45 years I have been the Coffee County medical examiner,” Brandon said. “This is an appointed and not an elected position. “We are not coroners – that’s an elected position,” he said. In Tennessee, Brandon said, the system of electing coroners is being phased out. “It actually has gone out over the last several years. There are a few [coroners] around but most of [the terms] have expired.” Investigators’ role For most of his time in the position, Brandon was the only medical examiner for the county. Then, two years ago, Allen Lendley, director of Coffee County Emergency Medical Agency, and Michael Bonner, chief of Coffee County Emergency Medical Services, joined Brandon’s team as medicolegal death investigators. “About five years ago, we started developing a system called medicolegal death investigation,” Brandon said. “We saw that in order to do it, we will have to send people to training, and the closest place we were training at that time was Washington University in St. Louis. We felt people who are already involved with emergency services and disaster will be the best people to send to get training.” Both Lendley and Bonner have completed the necessary training. “The medicolegal death investigator program gives the Coffee County medical examiner’s office a great deal of help in determining causes of death, which is one of the major things we deal with in the medical examiner’s office,” Brandon said. The medical examiner is required to be involved if there is a death that does not appear to be natural. “We only get involved when there is a suspicion for foul play, suicide, homicide or unexplained infant death,” he said. Brandon said he appreciates all members of the medical examiner’s office. “If we structured appropriately, there would be a smooth transition if I decide to retire from this position,” Brandon said. “We also hope we will be adding more legal death investigators in the future. They stay very busy. They have their own positions already.” Brandon said he hoped to add at least two medicolegal investigators to the group. “We are the ones who actually go out to the scene and do the investigation to determine, from a medical standpoint, if we believe this case needs an autopsy or if there is something suspicious,” Bonner said. While at the scene, Bonner said, the medicolegal investigators take pictures and document everything. “At the same time, law enforcement is there to look at the criminal side of it,” Bonner said. “We listen to the medical facts and make sure those pieces of the puzzle make sense.” The medicolegal investigators pronounce individuals deceased. If death occurs outside of a hospital, hospice or nursing care, Bonner said, they have to examine each case. “When medicolegal investigators arrive on the scene, they can pronounce an individual deceased and that individual is their jurisdiction,” Brandon said. “The scene is jurisdiction of law enforcement, but law enforcement can’t do anything with that body until the medicolegal investigators get there.” Brandon said having medicolegal death investigators involved in cases of the sudden unexplained death of an infant has been a big help. “That has been a huge area where the legal death investigators have been able to improve the medical examiner’s position,” Brandon said. “It’s made my job, as chief medical examiner, easier and more thorough. We have worked together for a couple of years and feel comfortable with each other. And now they will feel comfortable with Dr. Trussler because he has worked with law enforcement already.” State’s involvement “There are times when state medical examiners get involved,” Brandon said. “We do not locally do forensic autopsies. When we need a forensic pathologist to examine a body and help us determine the cause of death, [the state gets involved].” State and county medical examiners work together very efficiently, said Brandon. “Many times, we can just pick up the phone and say we have a case that is going to need a postmortem exam,” Brandon said. “That is cleared through the Coffee County District Attorney’s office and the county medical examiner’s office.” Elena Cawley can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.