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Few enlist for medical examiner job

Only three apply to replace resigning examiner Joan Wood. All are described as top-notch.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 12, 2000


LARGO -- Given a national shortage of forensic pathologists, local officials did not expect a stampede of applicants to replace outgoing Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood.

And a stampede it wasn't.

Three doctors, including Palm Beach County's chief medical examiner, have applied to replace Woods, who is retiring effective Sept. 30 after 20 years as the circuit's medical examiner.

"I kind of thought there would be more applicants," said State Attorney Bernie McCabe, who heads a local search committee. "But the quality of the applicants is extraordinary. On paper, these are very qualified people."

The applicants:

Dr. Jon R. Thogmartin, 36, chief medical examiner in Palm Beach County since April 1999. Thogmartin is a graduate of the University of Texas medical school who has conducted more than 1,000 autopsies and assisted in the identification of passengers in the ValuJet crash.

Dr. Bruce A. Hyma, 44, an associate medical examiner in Miami-Dade County since 1987 who has also worked for Palm Beach's medical examiner's office. Hyma is a graduate of Wayne State University's medical school in Detroit.

Dr. Mary Ann Sens, 50, a professor of pathology at West Virginia University since 1994. Sens is a graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina. Former deputy chief medical examiner of Charleston, S.C., Sens has testified as an expert witness in more than 300 criminal and civil trials.

All three candidates, who will be interviewed Aug. 31 by the local search committee, have extensive training in forensic pathology and are board-certified in the field.

The local search committee will make a recommendation to the Florida Medical Examiner Commission, which in turn will make a recommendation to Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush will make the appointment to the three-year post.

McCabe said the search committee hopes to move quickly to make a recommendation in hopes of replacing Wood by her Sept. 30 departure. But he acknowledged that may be impossible.

For one, the state Medical Examiner Commission doesn't meet until Oct. 25, though it could hold a special session sooner to accommodate the circuit.

McCabe said he has authority by law to appoint an interim medical examiner if the Sept. 30 deadline isn't met. He said he doesn't anticipate asking Wood to stay beyond her retirement date.

"I think for everybody's sake it's best to do it as soon as possible but with all due diligence," McCabe said.

Woods, 55, who was paid $145,000 annually, unexpectedly announced her retirement two weeks after prosecutors dropped criminal charges against the Church of Scientology, blaming Wood's reversal in the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson for hopelessly damaging their case.

Dr. Stephen Nelson, Polk County's medical examiner, said he wasn't surprised by the paucity of applicants. He thought the controversy surrounding Wood's departure played a part.

"When there's a cloud over the office, it creates trepidation," he said.

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