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As of last week, just one body from Missoula County had been transported out of state for an autopsy, according to Capt. Mike Dominick in the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

"There's no change to the end result, other than that we don't have the close working relationship with the medical examiners that we've had in the past," Dominick said.

Two state medical examiners resigned in short succession this year, and the Montana attorney general has appointed a new head examiner, Jaime Oeberst. Oeberst will step into the position in the middle of August.

As part of the change, Attorney General Tim Fox is putting a new structure in place for the State Medical Examiner's Office (see related story).

In the meantime, county coroners all across Montana are sending bodies out of state for autopsies.

Mike Milburn, chief of staff for the attorney general, said an out-of-state pathologist would be in Montana to help out late last week and through the weekend as well. The state brought on Rob Kurtzman of Grand Junction, Colorado.

"It is an inconvenience. It will be hard on the families involved. But right now, it's working very well," Milburn said of the temporary solution.

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The quick departure of Gary Dale and then Walter Kemp disappointed the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, Dominick said. He described both men as hard working, available at all hours, and "tremendous assets" to the community.

The sheriff's office has had a close working relationship with both Dale and Kemp, who served as a deputy before taking over for Dale this spring.

Dominick said Dale in particular was adept at explaining the complexities of forensic pathology to lay people.

The captain figured Kemp had "tons of Ph.D.s": "Willy Kemp is the smartest guy in the room."

"It's a big loss for us. We're very sad to see them go," Dominick said.

In the meantime, though, he said little has changed for the people of Missoula County. He said the 12 deputy coroners might do a bit more follow-up with a person's doctor to try to determine cause of death before sending a body to a pathologist in Seattle.

"We haven't had that close working relationship with the doctors that we had before, but he seemed very competent," Dominick said.

The transport that took place happened quickly. Dominick said the body of a baby was transported in the morning, the doctor in Washington called him with results in the afternoon, and the body returned to Missoula the same night.

The bottom line cost for Missoula County will remain the same, he said. Missoula County will continue to pay the same price for autopsies, $950, and the state will reimburse the county for anything over that amount.

Last week, Kurtzman was working in Missoula, Dominick said. He estimated Missoula County requests a few autopsies every month, anywhere from two to five.

He's looking forward to having a permanent state medical examiner.

"Hopefully, we'll develop just as good a relationship as we had with Dr. Dale and Dr. Kemp. That's what we're really hoping for," Dominick said.

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