• Fri. Jun 25th, 2021

By Bridget Doherty

Hamilton County’s new state-of-the-art Coroner’s Office and Crime Lab is up and running.

Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco and County Commissioners are celebrating the opening of the new Hamilton County Coroner’s Office and Crime Laboratory, 4477 Carver Woods Drive, Blue Ash at Summit Park. The three-story, 87,000 square-foot building includes state-of-the-art laboratories, a ballistics testing range, a radiology suite including a 64-slice CT scanner for virtual autopsies, offices, conference rooms and training areas.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was May 3.

The $55 million facility is on budget, sustainably built, and is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

Serving as a regional resource for law enforcement agencies, students, and educators, the Blue Ash location is easily accessible by Interstates 71, 75 and 275 and will house the latest sophisticated equipment in forensic science. The building’s design allows the ability to give tours, host educational viewings and allow families privacy during what can be an emotional time.

Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco (third from right) is joined by county leaders for a ceremonial ribbon cutting on the new crime lab May 3. Photo provided

The Blue Ash facility stands in stark contrast with the outdated, 47-year-old, 35,000-square-foot Eden Ave. facility in Clifton next to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The old Coroner’s lab was cramped, windowless, and would routinely lose power due to an overtaxed and unstable electrical grid. The cramped conditions have led to inefficiencies of evidence processing as well as an increased concern for cross-contamination. The morgue was routinely at capacity given the limited body storage capabilities. Digital X-ray capability was 1-1.5 hours at the old facility. The new facility offers results in 13 seconds. The crime lab in the new facility has a turn around of about four days (for drugs, for example), compared to about a month for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Additional features in the new facility include:

• Enhanced lighting system for the benefit of scientific analysis

• Separation of analytical areas from office areas for lab employees

• Robust exhaust systems for autopsy suite and marijuana drying

• Two secure video testimony rooms

• Emergency generators to power body coolers and other critical operational areas

• Space to meet with families in private

• CT Scanner for less invasive investigation and ability to better preserve evidence

• Heightened security for evidence areas

• Laboratories built for discipline specific types of analysis

“The old building was outdated – didn’t even have enough electricity,” says Sammarco. “We’d have to unplug some of the machines to plug in other machines. We had no windows, so we had no natural light to process evidence, which was very difficult with just florescent light bulbs. Just all of those inefficiencies, plus the ventilation hoods weren’t even working properly.”

“We’re going to be scanning all the bodies and doing virtual autopsies and correlating the information that we get with autopsy findings, so I think it’s going to really help and make us more efficient,” she says.

The crime lab serves all law enforcement agencies within Hamilton County as well as agencies from around the region.

Sammarco began working on plans for a new crime lab shortly after taking office in 2012.

The county issued bonds in 2018 to fund the new facility.