Shelton named medical examiner

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — A county official says there will be no changes to his role after being named the county’s medical examiner by the Surry County Board of Commissioners recently.

“I’ve been performing the field investigations since 1985,” said EMS Director John Shelton. “This just officially names me the medical examiner.”

Shelton said in his capacity as the county medical examiner, he determines whether an autopsy needs to be performed in deaths which take place in Surry County.

As part of the board’s consent agenda, Shelton was named to the post. He will take leave from his position as EMS director when performing his role as the county’s medical examiner. Dr. Jason Stopyra will be the county’s “back-up” medical examiner.

Shelton noted Stopyra served as the primary medical examiner prior to last Monday’s change.

Correspondence to the board indicates the state medical examiner’s office requested Shelton be named to the post.

According to North Carolina statute, a county’s medical examiner need not be a practicing physician. The appointing authority should “give preference to physicians licensed to practice medicine in this State but may also appoint licensed physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, or emergency medical technician paramedics.”

Shelton said his role was and remains making an initial judgment as to cause of death and referring those cases in which an “unnatural death” has occurred to the regional medical examiner at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Unnatural deaths include homicides, suicides and accidental deaths, according to Shelton. Other instances, such as a person who had not seen a physician for a long period of time prior to the person’s death, or a person who had no treating physician, could also require an autopsy.

Shelton said his fee as the county’s medical examiner is $200 per case, a figure confirmed by Finance Officer Sarah Bowen.

According to Shelton, much goes into seeing an autopsy through. A normal course of events requires Shelton to make the initial determination, for which he charges his fee. Local rescue squads and a number of area funeral homes are contracted to transport the body to Wake if Shelton determines an autopsy is necessary. Then the medical examiner’s office there bills the county for the autopsy.

Bowen also said the cost for autopsies can vary based on each individual case. However, she provided an average cost just shy of $2,000 for the services.

According to the county’s financial transparency database on its website, the county has shelled out $27,450 related to medical examiner fees this fiscal year, which began in July of 2015 and will end in June.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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