Medical examiner won't do autopsy

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The state Medical Examiner's Office denied a Juneau police request for an autopsy on the remains of a Juneau woman found dead in a hotel early Saturday morning.

Lori Jo Hall, 46, was found dead in a hot tub at the Best Western on Mendenhall Loop Road.

Juneau police are required to investigate every "unattended death" as a homicide, which, in their book, includes performing an autopsy.

Since January, the examiner has granted two of the 10 autopsies Juneau police have requested, Sgt. Dave Campbell said.

Phone calls to the examiner's office were not returned Tuesday, but last summer office personnel said they were understaffed and overworked.

Police don't expect investigators with the Medical Examiner's Office to perform every request, but did expect one when an apparently healthy 46-year-old woman died in a hot tub.

"When we don't get it, we're surprised," Campbell said.

Instead, the examiner offered to do a toxicology screening, he said.

Without a definitive cause of death, Campbell said the only information police had to work with in Hall's death came from the "person in the hotel room" with Hall, and from people who saw her before she entered the room.

Citing an ongoing investigation, police will not say if Hall was in the room with more than one person or what was going on at the time of her death. An autopsy could confirm or deny what police are being told, Campbell said.

"A lot of key information comes from autopsies," he said. "Not knowing is problematic."

The Medical Examiner's Office did agree to perform an autopsy on the remains of another woman who died Saturday in Juneau: 41-year-old Melinda Chamberlin, a state employee who was pronounced dead at Bartlett Regional Hospital after a car crash.

Police are investigating the circumstances of Chamberlin's death because Remond Henderson said she was already unconscious when he drove his Jeep into the ditch on Glacier Highway while taking her to the hospital. No other details were available.

Chamberlin's autopsy had not been performed as of Tuesday, police said.

An autopsy is the only way to determine the exact cause of death, Campbell said. Neither Hall nor Chamberlin showed obvious signs of trauma, he said.

Police consider both Hall's and Chamberlin's deaths to be "unattended" because the women died outside of the view of medical professionals.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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