Clark’s approach hands-on
BY KIMBERLY VETTER
Advocate staff writer
May 28, 2012
Dr. Beau Clark is taking a hands-on approach to his new job as East Baton Rouge Parish coroner.
In addition to managing his office and staff, Clark said he is going to the scenes of many high-profile death investigations and is sometimes participating in autopsies related to those cases.
Clark said he also is conducting many of the exams a coroner’s office is required to do, such as those involving mentally ill or chemically dependent patients who have been placed under an order of protective custody.
“The position of East Baton Rouge Parish coroner has really become a full-time job,” Clark said. “That’s why I’ve limited my work in the private sector and am spending almost all of my time carrying out my duties as coroner.”
Clark said the job of coroner is important since that office deals with the deceased, the mentally ill, the chemically dependent and their relatives and loved ones. “You have to be dedicated,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Clark took office March 26, five months after unseating two-term incumbent Shannon Cooper in the Nov. 19 general election to become East Baton Rouge Parish’s next coroner.
Since then, Clark, who is also an emergency room physician, has moved to follow through on such campaign promises as beefing up the office’s investigative staff.
He’s also trying to develop a regional forensic program that would allow the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office to, for a fee, conduct autopsies on bodies from other parishes.
By eliminating two administrative positions, Clark said, he has been able to add two people to his investigative team, bumping the number of death investigators up from three to five.
“The magic number, however, is seven,” he said.
With seven death investigators, each investigator would be required to work only one 24-hour shift a week, Clark said. During the rest of the week, the investigators would work normal shifts and have time to complete necessary paperwork, he said.
Currently, investigators work a 24-hour shift every four days, Clark said. The coroner said he helps with death investigations when needed and goes to the scenes of almost every major traffic crash, homicide and suicide in the parish.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he’s seen Clark at several death scenes and that his presence will “benefit us greatly,” causing death investigations to be “more timely and professional.”
Clark said he has met with coroners in several surrounding parishes to gauge their interest in a regional forensic center.
Clark said a regional forensic program would allow area coroners’ offices to “consolidate efforts and utilize all our tools and all our expertise,” especially in times of crisis such as a hurricane or an unsolved serial killer case.
He said it also would enable the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office to use its $1.5 million center on R.B. Hearndon Avenue near Metro Airport to its fullest. Currently, Clark said, the East Baton Rouge Forensic Medical Center “is underutilized.”
If a regional program comes to fruition, Clark said, twice as many bodies could come through the facility, making it necessary to hire another pathologist. Money collected from other parishes to use the facility and its services would pay for the pathologist’s salary, he said.
Dr. James Grace, Iberville Parish coroner, said he likes the idea of a regional program, but probably would not participate “strictly because of economics.”
“We couldn’t pay what it would cost,” he said, adding that his office works 30 or fewer death investigations a year. “Currently, we have a good deal with Orleans Parish.”
Ascension Parish Coroner John Fraiche said he would “certainly have an interest in talking” to Clark about the possibility of a regional program and is “open to looking at what’s available.”
Dr. Ron Coe, coroner of Livingston Parish, was unavailable for comment last week, but said last year that he’s all for a regional program.
If autopsies are done by the same group of forensic pathologists, clues about unsolved crimes might be recognized sooner, Coe said.
“I’ve been talking about this for the past eight years,” he added. “I think it would be wonderful for the greater Baton Rouge community.”
Clark said he recently obtained a grant to build another refrigerated storage area at the East Baton Rouge Parish facility. Once it’s complete, almost 50 bodies could be stored there, he said.
The coroner said he would like to find money to purchase new vehicles for his staff, hire two more investigators and put all of his investigators through a national death investigator certification program in St. Louis.
He said that he would like investigators to be trained via the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council to carry a weapon.
If Clark can’t find the funds in his budget to do these things, he said, he intends to ask the Metro Council for more money.
“I’m not asking for anything exorbitant,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker said he would consider Clark’s request and try to make it happen in light of what Clark’s already done for the Coroner’s Office.
“I think he’s doing an outstanding job,” Walker said. “He’s a brilliant young mind with all the energy in the world.”