Ex-Olmsted County coroner leads gruesome Oklahoma task
The former Olmsted County coroner drew praise for leading the effort to identify and perform autopsies on two dozen victims of the Oklahoma City tornado.
Dr. Eric Pfeifer, the chief medical examiner of Oklahoma, worked around the clock with his staff for two days, according to media reports. Less than 48 hours after the funnel cloud hit, Pfeifer's office had determined a cause of death for every victim, identified all of them and notified their families.
"They are typical, very extensive blunt-force injuries. These storms just have energy … bigger than a bomb blast, and so the injuries are as you would expect from something like that," Pfeifer told to the Daily Oklahoman.
Members of his board of directors said such efficiency would have been hard to come by in the years before his arrival, when a backlog of unfinished cases hit 1,500 and the office lost its national accreditation, according to an NBC news article this week. Pfeifer resigned his Olmsted County position in January 2011 and was hired in Oklahoma two months later.
"We were in a crisis when we hired Dr. Pfeifer," Chris Ferguson of the Oklahoma Funeral Board told NBC News. "But he seems to me to be a crisis manager."
Pfeifer took over an office that was underfunded, understaffed and filled with equipment "out of the '70s," Ferguson said. He and others said Pfeifer shook up the staff, hired an administrative chief and cut the backlog of unfiled death certificates in half. He successfully lobbied the state for $2.5 million in funding to double the number of pathologists from three to six and update equipment.
Ferguson told NBC News it was a relief that Pfeifer was in charge when Oklahoma suffered its biggest disaster in years.
"He has children around the same age as some of these victims," Ferguson said. "But I think he has the ability to set those emotions aside and get the job done."