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Review of fired Chicago pathologist cases far from complete

December 21, 2018

CHICAGO (AP) — A medical examiner’s office in Chicago is still a year away from completing its review of all of the cases handled by a fired pathologist who was found to have botched autopsies and overlooked a homicide, according to officials.

The Cook County agency has only reviewed one-third of the 218 cases handled by Dr. John E. Cavanaugh, who was fired from his $225,000-a-year post last year after his work was called into question.

So far, the county medical examiner’s office has changed Cavanaugh’s findings regarding “manner of death” in five of the cases it reviewed, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The medical examiner’s office ordered the review after finding that Cavanaugh, 61, failed to determine that a man found dead in a burning apartment had died from stabbing wounds. The office has had to reclassify the death as a homicide.

Another case involved a 2-year-old boy whose death the agency had to reclassify from “natural” to “undetermined” because bruises had been found.

There are 11 cases in which Cavanaugh’s manner of death findings were determined to be correct, but the medical examiner’s office found that the “cause of death” was incorrectly reported. In one case, Cavanaugh reported that a woman died from “hypertensive heart disease,” instead of “acute pancreatitis.”

The Cook County agency declined to comment on whether the prolonged analyses from Cavanaugh’s cases have in any way delayed or blocked criminal investigations involving police.

Changing a determination of death also means that families will have to deal with new details and circumstances about the death of a loved one.

Cavanaugh commented on the slow pace of his review, saying “it doesn’t sound like it was that important.”

But Cook County spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny called the review a top priority for the medical examiner’s office. She said the agency is trying “to ensure that each case is thoroughly evaluated while also ensuring that current cases receive adequate resources.”

Cavanaugh, who is from Crown Point, Indiana, continues to work part-time for the Marion County Coroner in Indianapolis.

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Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, http://chicago.suntimes.com/

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