The Columbia County Coroner's Office just found new transportation.
Initially, the county planned to convert a county-owned Ford Astro minivan to accommodate the transport ofbodies.
In a Tuesday meeting, the county's Management and Financial Services Committee approved more than $18,000 to purchase a new van. The county had hoped to put off buying a new van until next year, but deemed the purchase a necessity.
"It was an older van and given the upgrades necessary, it made more sense to buy something that would last longer," county procurement manager Greg Woodlief said.
Woodlief's department recommended buying a Ford E-250 full-size van. Upgrades for the van include adding a bulkhead between the driver and the cargo area, adding insulation for the walls, an air-conditioning unit for the cargo area, lettering for the outside of the van, two self-contained breathing apparatuses for safety reasons, and a stretcher.
The van will cost $18,600 and the upgrades will cost an additional $10,000 to $11,000, Woodlief said.
"We only just found out about the state no longer transporting bodies for us," King said. "I was basically told by the commission that I came to them too late to get more money for my office to buy a van. Hopefully, I won't have that much to transport in the next year."
About 30 bodies were sent to Atlanta for autopsy last year, according to County Coroner Tommy King Sr. In the past, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation picked up the tab for body transport.
However, state budget cuts forced the GBI to discontinue the moving of bodies from county morgues to state crime laboratories beginning July 1, in cases where bodies were suspected of being involved in a crime and forensic evidence gathering was necessary.
King expressed his concerns at a county budget meeting recently, and he said the county came through for his office.
The proposal for the van will be taken before the entire board of commissioners at a meeting June 17.
Another consideration, King said, is that many of bodies requiring autopsy can now be taken to the recently opened GBI Eastern Regional Crime Laboratory on Phinizy Road in south Augusta. Before the recent opening of the Augusta crime lab, bodies had to be taken to the GBI lab headquarters in Atlanta.
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