Hamilton County's new state-of-the-art Coroner's Office and Crime Lab is up and running. The 87,000-square-foot facility in Blue Ash replaces the outdated and cramped facility on Eden Ave. next to the UC Medical Center.
The $55 million building includes laboratories, a ballistics testing range, a radiology suite capable of virtual autopsies, training areas and a lot more space in general.
"The old building was outdated - didn't even have enough electricity," says Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, MD. "We'd have to unplug some of the machines to plug in other machines. We had no windows, so we had no natural light to process evidence, which was very difficult with just florescent light bulbs. Just all of those inefficiencies, plus the ventilation hoods weren't even working properly."
The Corryville facility also had frequent power outages. At least once the body coolers were without power for up to four days, forcing the office to scramble to find an alternative solution.
The county points out the previous facility, built in 1974, predated technologies such as analyzing DNA evidence. The old office had two autopsy tables; the new one has a suite with eight. There is refrigeration capacity for up to 135 bodies, compared to about 50 in the past. Digital X-ray capability was 1-1.5 hours at the old facility. The new facility offers results in 13 seconds.
"I can remember looking for blood stains so that we could do the ABO blood typing," says Mike Trimpe, a forensic scientist and 41-year veteran of the office. "Type O blood is 45 percent of the population. Now, we swab a doorknob for something we can't even see and do DNA sequencing on it and we can determine who's DNA is on there is one in one decillion in the population. Decillion is a 1 with 33 zeros behind it."
The new facility also offers a private entrance for delivering evidence and decedents rather than doing that in full public view like at the old facility.
Sammarco says she's most excited about a new a 64-slice CT scanner that will be used for virtual autopsies.
"We're going to be scanning all the bodies and doing virtual autopsies and correlating the information that we get with autopsy findings, so I think it's going to really help and make us more efficient," she says.
The crime lab serves all law enforcement agencies within Hamilton County as well as agencies from around the region. Sammarco says the crime lab has a turn around of about four days (for drugs, for example), compared to about a month for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
"We're able to provide a service that a distant crime lab can't," says Sammarco.
Sammarco began working on plans for a new crime lab shortly after taking office in 2012. Monday's ribbon cutting fell on her birthday.
"This is a birthday present for the last nine years in the making and everybody in this building feels the same way."
The groundbreaking on the Blue Ash facility took place in Dec. 2017, and discussion on building or renovating a new space for the coroner's office and crime lab started with a study in 2012 that was updated in 2016.
The county issued bonds in 2018 to fund the new facility.