Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Virginia State News

February 28, 2014

Virginia’s western forensics lab begins expansion

ROANOKE, Va. —  Construction is under way on a state facility in Roanoke County that will more than double the amount of space available to the region’s forensic scientists and medical examiners.

The $40 million project will add to and renovate the Virginia Department of Forensic Science’s Western Laboratory, as well as the Western District Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Officials say the project is a welcome relief to the roughly 76 people who work at the facility, investigating crimes and deaths in cramped labs and facilities approaching two decades old.

“We’ve pretty much topped out this place,” Kevin Patrick, director of the forensic science lab, told The Roanoke Times. “It’s not ideal working conditions.”

The lab and the medical examiner’s office cover the largest geographic area in the state and are frequently the busiest, doing work for about 185 agencies.

Scientists at the lab perform work in several different specialties, including DNA testing, trace evidence collection, drugs, toxicology, firearms, finger- and footprints, and document analysis. Forensic scientists last year worked on nearly 14,700 cases, while medical examiner’s office officials performed more than 1,300 in-house autopsies or exams.

The new, three-floor, 63,000-square-foot space will be attached to the current facility, which is roughly 53,000 square feet. Portions of the current facility also will be remodeled.

The new space will allow the lab and medical examiner’s office to also purchase about $6 million in new equipment, something Patrick said the facility desperately needs.

“Right now we are limited to where we may have one or two pieces of a particular kind of equipment, and we have nine examiners waiting in line to use that,” Patrick said.

While a new facility won’t get rid of the backlogs, but having space for new equipment may help alleviate the problem, Patrick said.

“When you’re tripping over each other when you’re handling evidence, we make it work, but this new space will really improve the work environment,” Patrick said.

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