Backlog of cases, staff vacancies at NC Medical Examiner's Office cause heartache for grieving mom

Diane Wilson Image
Friday, April 12, 2024
Autopsy delays: Medical Examiner cites case backlog, staff vacancies
A Cumberland County mother waits seven months for closure, as NC Medical Examiner's Office struggles with case backlog and staff vacancies.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- "It's too long to wait, too much pain, stress, and anxiety and there's no closure."

Regina Timlet is dealing with a lack of closure when it comes to knowing the cause of death of her son, 23-year-old Marcel Patterson.

The Cumberland County mother has been waiting for months to get the autopsy report from the NC Medical Examiner's Office. Her son died in their home last August.

"I'm no closer eight months later than I was the day he left me, and I just want some answers," Timlet said.

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Timlet said her son had a known heart condition and shared his medical records with the Medical Examiner's Office when they took his body for an autopsy.

"You expect a report in a timely manner where all the facts were together, the facts were together for them. It wasn't a person they found out, no ID, didn't know who they were, no history -- I gave them everything at the time."

For months, Patterson's death certificate remained listed as pending.

Timlet said she's contacted the state multiple times.

"I have called almost every day for the last seven months. I don't know what happened to him, but they do, because they've done an autopsy, they got back the toxicology, the pathology, so they're going to have an answer so I can have closure."

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With no answers, Timlet reached out to Troubleshooter Diane Wilson. Wilson got in touch with the NC Medical Examiner's Office and a representative provided this statement:

"We care about this case and all other medical examiner cases, and our heart goes out to this mother who is suffering the loss of her son and seeking information. Every death investigation conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has its own unique set of facts and circumstances, and the length of time to complete a case can vary based on a number of factors. North Carolina's medical examiner system does have a backlog due to high caseloads and staff vacancies. Specifically, we've experienced a 26% increase in medical examiner cases from 2019 to 2023 and our staff vacancy rate is nearing 20%. Due to these factors, case completion times are averaging greater than 200 days."

It took a few more weeks, but Timlet finally got what she'd been waiting for as she received the report from the Medical Examiner's Office. The report stated his cause of death was due to cardiac arrhythmia, and his death was of natural causes.

"I can exhale, and I cried and now I can have closure and now I can begin to heal because thanks to you I know what caused my only son's premature death at 23. It was his heart, and now my broken heart can heal," Timlet said to Wilson.