A LIFE AMONG THE DEAD

DR. HEINZ KARNITSCHNIG CUT HIS WAY THROUGH CORPSES AND RED TAPE

The bodies piled up quickly and he made his point. Rabbis complained because they couldn't bury their dead within the time limit of religious tradition. Police officers complained because they needed autopsy reports as evidence. Families complained. And Karnitschnig got his way.

That scenario may soon repeat itself. Whereas the Medical Examiner's Office has been operating with three full-time forensic pathologists, including Karnitschnig, and one part-timer, it will soon only have one. The two full-time staff pathologists, Drs. Fred Walker and Larry Shaw, were initially considered to take over the office. Walker withdrew because he felt he didn't have enough management experience and then resigned, effective June 1. Shaw also resigned because he was allegedly so nonplussed by the advisory selection committee. (Neither would agree to be interviewed by New Times.)

They cannot be replaced easily. In 1990 Karnitschnig sent out 650 letters looking for candidates and got 12 replies, most of which he says were from unqualified or over the hill" doctors looking for a forensic Sun City." The next year, he went to a national convention, advertised a vacancy and sat in a hotel room for a week waiting for the telephone to ring. It never did.

Dr. Philip Keen, who has worked part-time for Karnitschnig for several years, signed a one-year, renewable contract with the county to assume the post. Keen, who is currently medical examiner for Yavapai County, is a tall and slender man, at least compared to Karnitschnig, clean-shaven to Karnitschnig's beardedness, and Dr. K is the first to say that Keen's also more diplomatic.

Everyone from the County Manager's Office to the courts to the law enforcement agencies agrees that the Medical Examiner's Office is underfunded.

Although Dr. K was the highest-paid Maricopa County official, his salary of $127,000 is rather low for a doctor with 33 years' experience. Entry-level pathologists in other parts of the country can command salaries well over $100,000.

Dr. Keen may end up working by himself. The storage vaults hold about 30 bodies; the vaults can fill up over the course of a violent weekend. It's more than one doctor can handle.

part 1 of 2

A LIFE AMONG THE DEAD DR. HEINZ KARNITS... v5-27-92

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