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A little help, please, for firm that does what others won't

August 01, 2006

Try calling a cab company at 3 a.m. and telling them you want them to take you to Baltimore.

And, instead of getting a fare for the return trip, tell them they'll have to ride back with no passengers.

They'd probably tell you that you were crazy, if they even listened to your whole spiel before hanging up.

But that essentially is what state officials are telling the owner of Kerfoot Livery Service, whose operator says he can't make money on what the state is paying him.

If you've never heard of the company, that's good, in a way. Their business picks up the bodies of those who have died by homicide, suicide, accident or other unusual circumstances and transports them to Baltimore, where autopsies are performed.

If it sounds like a simple job, consider this: Unusual deaths often happen in the middle of the night. The transport company has to respond quickly, so that the body does not deteriorate and muddle the results of any autopsy.

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And - here's the kicker - unless the death is the result of a homicide, there's no mileage paid for the return trip.

For 10 years, the rate per "loaded" mile was $1.75, but an emergency increase boosted that to $2 on July 1.

Thomas E. Wetzel Sr., the firm's owner, said that's not enough, given rising prices for fuel, insurance, etc.

We agree. Barring a decision by the state medical examiner's office to station a physician here to perform autopsies, the bodies must go to Baltimore.

This is a vital job that no one else, apparently, wants to do. And, unfortunately, the number of violent deaths here seems to be on the increase. The state must find the funds to keep this experienced company on the road.

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