By Kevin Shelly
The state-run facility in Newark where autopsies on Joyce and John Sheridan — the CEO of Cooper University Hospital in Camden — were done last fall failed its accreditation in 2013.
Thousands of additional autopsies were also subsequently done in the unaccredited Northern Regional Medical Examiners Office or NRMEO, according to information obtained last week from the state through an Open Public Records Act request.
Following autopsies on the Sheridans, the office ruled the deaths a murder-suicide that occurred in the bedroom of the couple’s home in Somerset County, with John Sheridan stabbing his wife before then stabbing himself and setting the bedroom on fire. Sons of the Sheridans have said they will challenge those findings
NRMEO was accredited for 20 years by the National Association of Medical Examiners, or NAME. Accreditation lasts for five years and then must be renewed. NRMEO’s accreditation last lapsed in 2011. When it reapplied for renewal in 2013, it failed an on-site inspection.
The president of medical examiners association, Dr. Marcus Nashelsky, a professor of pathology at the University of Iowa, said failing is “uncommon.” “It is essentially an open-book test. There are between 300 and 350 items. And the right answer is not hidden. The preparation for an inspection means there should be no surprises.”
He added he could not disclose why the state’s office had failed because the state of New Jersey paid for the inspection and the information in the report is the state’s property. But he said situations, such as failing to have a board certified pathologist overseeing the office could automatically cause an office to fail. An Open Public Records Act request for documents about the findings of the failed on-site inspection has been made but it will take more than a week to get a response.
A spokesman with the state Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the NRMEO, declined comment.
A medical examiner with the NRMEO ruled in late March, nearly six months after their deaths, that John Sheridan had killed his wife of more than 40 years,
The autopsy of Joyce, done at the NRMEO, found that John, the 72-year-old Cooper executive, had violently and repeatedly stabbed his 69-year-old wife, fatally striking the retired schoolteacher’s aorta. The autopsy of John, done by the same medical examiner, Dr. Eddy Lilavois, also at the NRMEO, found that Sheridan had hesitantly stabbed himself on the left side before stabbing himself on the right side, and then in the neck, nicking his jugular.
Lilavois 20 years ago was the subject of a New York Daily News probe that found that the pathologist, while working in the New York City Medical Examiners Office, made an error in ruling that a toddler had been beaten by his father. However when he corrected his findings after a re-examination a few days later, Lilavois failed to correct the report to read that the child had died through natural causes, a brain aneurysm. The doctor finally did so, but 17 months later, only after stories about the incident appeared in the Daily News.
By then, the child’s father, with information based on the Lilavois original autopsy report, had been investigated by police for his son’s homicide, He also lost his job and his wife divorced him
Lilavois quit his job at the New York Medical Examiners Office in 1995 as a result of his mishandling of the case, but he was eventually hired by New Jersey and assigned to the NRMEO.
“Given what our family has experienced with the NRMEO, it comes as no surprise to us that they failed their accreditation testing,” Matt Sheridan, a lawyer and son of the Sheridans, said Monday when asked about the status of the regional medical examiner’s office.