Most deaths in the Austin area don’t require an investigation, but if one does the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office (TCME) will oversee the process. The TCME is tasked with determining the cause of death and the manner in which it happened whenever a death is:
A medical examiner or pathologist is the person in charge of carrying out an investigation into the cause and manner of a death. But Austin is a pretty big city, and the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office services are extended to 43 other counties upon request. It’s a huge undertaking that’s orchestrated by five departments within the TCME.
The person who’s in charge of it all is the Chief Medical Examiner.
Who is the Chief Medical Examiner in Travis County?
As of November 2022, J. Keith Pinckard is the Travis County Medical Examiner. He started in 2015 after a decade working as a medical examiner at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences. Dr. Pinkard also served as the Deputy Chief at the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator for a year and a half just before being named the TCME’s Chief Medical Examiner.
In a 2018 interview with the Texas Medical Association, Dr. Pinckard said he developed a keen interest in forensic pathology during his residency. That’s what started him down the path to becoming the Chief Medical Examiner of Travis County.
What is the Chief Medical Examiner’s Primary Duties?
The Travis County Chief Medical Examiner oversees the work of six pathologists that carry out hundreds of investigations every year. That requires a lot of day-to-day activities that go beyond performing autopsies.
The duties of the Travis County Chief Medical Examiner include:
- Analyzing autopsy results
- Examining death scenes
- Testifying in court
- Educating medical professionals
- Reviewing evidence
- Performing laboratory tests
- Creating reports
- Talking with family members
- Administrative tasks
This is far from an exhaustive list of what it takes to manage the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office. It’s a huge undertaking, and the Chief Medical Examiner is at the helm of it all.
How is a Texas County Medical Examiner Selected?
Dr. Pinkard was hired as the Chief Medical Examiner by the Travis County Commissioners Court. The committee noted that in addition to medical examiner experience and serving as a Deputy Chief, Dr. Pinckard also managed residents as a faculty member at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. The TCME’s fellowship program to train medical students was already underway, which made Dr. Pinckard a highly qualified candidate for the position.
Another unique qualification was Dr. Pinckard’s involvement in construction of a medical examiner’s office and crime lab at UT Southwestern Medical School. It gave Pinckard an edge since a new medical examiner’s office was being built in Austin at the time of his hiring.
As you can see Travis County medical examiners have a demanding job that requires a lot more than performing an occasional autopsy. And working as the Chief Medical Examiner means handling administrative duties, management responsibilities, educating medical professionals and even helping to construct multi-million dollar facilities.
If you have any questions about the role of a medical examiner prior to a cremation or what to expect if an autopsy is needed, contact the team at Green Cremation Texas. We’re here to provide assistance 24/7.