RIVERTON - Just as Fremont County was getting used to the idea of having a forensic pathologist, Dr. Ruth Kohlmeier announced she's leaving.
Kohlmeier set up shop in Lander in November. On Friday she announced she's moving her practice to Colorado Springs, Colo. She is scheduled to leave this week.
In a prepared statement as to why she's leaving, Kohlmeier said, "Not enough work."
She didn't return phone calls seeking further comment.
Kohlmeier leaves an improved morgue facility in Lander. The county paid for a $3,100 upgrade to provide necessary equipment in preparation for her arrival. The morgue will continue to be used by staff for case examination and temporary body storage.
Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan said he's disappointed to see her go.
"She did a good job," he said. "She helped us considerably."
Kohlmeier saved the county about $16,000 in the past five months. That's the average cost of wages, fuel and travel the county would have spent on transporting cases to Loveland, Colo., for autopsies - roughly $700 per trip.
The county coroner will fall back on the old procedure immediately.
"We'll go back to the McKee Medical Center," McAuslan said. "We have been dealing with the forensic pathologists there for many years and are satisfied with the work they do. We have re-established our relationship and they have agreed to accept our cases again."
Kohlmeier performed her first autopsy for Fremont County on Nov. 26. She performed 23 overall.
Several other counties will be affected by Kohlmeier's departure. She had been performing autopsies for Natrona, Carbon, Washakie, Sublette and Sweetwater counties, most of them out of the Fremont County morgue in Lander.
Fremont County will lose money on that service, too, according to the coroner's office. A $75 user fee of the county morgue in Lander was charged for each autopsy. That service brought in about $900 since Kohlmeier's arrival and was used to cover the cost of cleanup and basic supplies.
On a more personal level, Kohlmeier's departure directly affects Fremont County Deputy Coroner Erin Ivie. Ivie had been hired by Kohlmeier as her diener, or autopsy assistant. She was making anywhere from $75 to $100 per case, she said, which equates to a loss of about $800 to $900 per month.
Kohlmeier's move also means Ivie reverts to putting in a considerable amount of travel time to Loveland, which sometimes poses a problem because of inclement weather.
"Her leaving affects the entire community," Ivie said. "It's very disappointing, not only for our office, but for a lot of the different coroners."
Coroners Paul Zamora and Don Schooley, of Carbon and Sublette counties, respectively, agreed.
Zamora said he used Kohlmeier's services "quite a bit" - most recently for two cases involving deaths of inmates at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins.
"Wyoming statute states all deaths that occur in the pen or a correctional facility are coroner cases," he said.
Zamora said he saved about $400 per case, or approximately $2,400 total, by working with Kohlmeier. Utilizing her services not only saved him money, but also time. Lander is about 60 miles closer to Rawlins than Loveland.
Zamora said he'd like to see another private practice pathologist in the state, either one centrally located or one who would come to his facility.
Natrona County Chief Deputy Coroner Wayne Reynolds said he hadn't figured out the cost savings yet, but he believed Kohlmeier's state-based office would have provided some kind of cut. Reynolds said his cases will now be taken to Scottsbluff, Neb., or Billings, Mont., where they've gone in the past.
Kohlmeier "did bring a tremendous amount of assets to our state that we didn't have in the past," Reynolds said.
"To me, it's almost to the point it's an absolute necessity," he said.
Leslie Stratmoen is news director for KVOW/KTAK radio in Riverton.