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Co. discusses litter, autopsies

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Publisher
No doubt there have been many Escambia County natives who moved away for a time, then returned to find that their home -- for one reason or another -- was not the same as when they left it.
David Ezell, of Brewton, is one such person. And his reason for hardly recognizing the Escambia County of his youth can be summed up in one word -- litter.
Ezell spoke to the county commission Monday, telling its members of what he sees as an epidemic of roadside trash that is plaguing unincorporated areas of the county.
Ezell recently came back to the county after having been away for 13 years.
He said that since he returned, he's been surprised by the amount of trash on county roadsides, especially in isolated areas where people could throw things out of their car windows unseen.
Illegal dumping sites where people rid themselves of old appliances and other unwanted household items are also a problem, Ezell told the commission.
And, Ezell said, "If you are lucky enough to find a no dumping sign, it's probably been shot with a shotgun, with a bag of trash sitting beside it."
Ezell described a time when he played host to out of town guests, which proved a pivotal moment in how he saw the litter control problem here.
Ezell implored the commission to mount a strong push in opposition to littering and illegal dumping, and offered to share ideas he's come up with while contemplating the matter.
Commissioner David Stokes is on board with putting an anti-litter campaign in place. "…When you go other places that do strictly enforce things of this nature…you see the difference that it makes.
Stokes raised the idea of holding a special meeting to address the matter, and commission chairman Larry White said that he had been looking into the Adopt-A-Mile program, which lets groups and individuals take on the responsibility of caring for stretches of roadway.
Sheriff Grover Smith described some of the problems law enforcement often has with enforcing litter laws, saying that as the rules are currently written, an officer has to witness the trash leaving the perpetrator's hand before a citation can be written.
It is not as it once was, when the owner of a car could be fined for any litter tossed from their vehicle.
In other news, the way that Escambia County's deceased are treated was at issue Monday morning as an area undertaker addressed the county commission on what he believes are problems with the handling of dead bodies here.
Joe Max Petty, a former county coroner who is now affiliated with an Atmore funeral home, expressed concerns over what he sees as an excessive number of autopsies being performed by the county medical examiner's office.
Petty also told the commission he thought it was a mistake to do away with the county coroner system --which Escambia County has done -- and go to a medical examiner system.
And Petty complained to the commission about a bill he sent to the county that has gone unpaid. Petty billed the county after he had to send a vehicle to retrieve a body from the department of forensic sciences in Mobile, where it had been sent for autopsy by the medical examiner.
Typically, a county employee delivers the deceased from that office to the funeral home of the families' choice, but the employee was out of town that day.
Sheriff Grover Smith spoke up in defense of the county's policy regarding autopsies, which is that anyone who dies while not in a medical institution's care is autopsied to rule out foul play. In many cases, Smith pointed out, a death which appears natural can in fact be a homicide. Only an autopsy done shortly after the death can rule murder out once and for all.
Smith also defended the medical examiner's position, saying it has removed the stigma of favoritism that had plagued the old coroner system.
The coroners were often undertakers, and when a dead body was ultimately embalmed at the funeral home where the undertaker worked during the day, the perception of impropriety inevitably arose.
Smith also asserted, and was agreed with by commission chairman Larry White, that the proper venue for discussion of the county's autopsy policy -- and of the work of the medical examiner's office -- was a meeting with District Attorney Mike Godwin and Medical Examiner Dr. Dan Raulerson.
The autopsy policy is, after all, set by the district attorney's office.
No action was taken on the bill Petty came to the meeting upset about.
In still other action, the commission voted to: