Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Where Is The Rest Of The Story?

One of the problems with local news reporting is that often a story is reported and then never followed up. For example, on July 29 of last year The Daily Gazette reported on a lawsuit against Montgomery County by Karen and Marc Lee whose son Alex, a Union College student, fell into the Canajoharie Gorge and died on June 10, 2001. It was an interesting story because the parents weren’t suing over unsafe conditions at the gorge as one would expect, instead they sued because the county coroner did an autopsy on their son which violated their religious beliefs.

The Lees are Jewish and the lawsuit stated, “A fundamental precept of Judaism is that a dead body is sacrosanct and it is for this reason that autopsies are strictly prohibited under Jewish law and observance.”

The Lees claim that they advised the county in advance of the autopsy that they didn’t want the autopsy done, but the coroner went ahead and performed it anyway. (This is, by the way, just one of several lawsuits against Montgomery County over the past year because some county official acted in a highhanded manner.) It is disturbing to see the way the Lees were treated by the county. Almost as disturbing is that I can’t find out how the lawsuit was resolved. Edward Munger, Jr. who wrote the original story has not done a follow-up story.

This is only one of many local stories that have never been followed up. To me it is an important story to follow up because it involved the violation of someone’s religious and civil rights. We have had many stories on the dangers of Wintergreen Park and the Canajoharie Gorge. We have had many stories and follow up stories on lawsuits that were not as important as this one.

We need a local Paul Harvey to investigate this lawsuit and tell us “the rest of the story.”

Note: I have changed the link in yesterday's post so that you can jump to a more comprehensive list of former and current Montgomery County newspapers. If you are from another county, you can still click on the link and go to your county from there to see a list of all the newspapers in your county and the places where they are archived.


  • Interesting. I'm not a lawyer, but according to New York Law, autopsies may be performed when there is a "compelling public necessity." One of the criteria for that is when it is
    "essential to the conduct of a
    criminal investigation of a homicide."

    I can't say I remember this incident well, but not all accidental deaths area automatically assumed to be accidental. If the young man's death was intitially investigated as a criminal matter, an autopsy may have been well within the rights and responsibilities of the coroner, regardless of the family's religious beliefs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:22 PM  

  • My memory of the story, and I could be wrong, is that there were several witnesses to the fall and that the fall into the gorge was never considered to be anything but accidental.

    It was difficult enough for these parents to lose their son, but to then have his body descrated against the precepts of their religion, only compounded their sorrow.

    By Blogger Dan Weaver, at 6:23 AM  

  • MONTGOMERY COUNTY -- An Orange County couple who sued Montgomery County for performing an autopsy on their son against their objections on religious grounds has been awarded $84,000 by a jury.
    Following a four-day trial before state Supreme Court Justice Joseph M. Sise, a jury spent just over two hours deliberating Thursday before finding in favor of Marc and Karen Lee of Chester.

    The Lees voiced objections prior to an autopsy on their son, Alexander Lee, who was 19 when he died after a June 10, 2001, plunge into the Canajoharie Creek falls in Wintergreen Park.

    The Lees, who are Jewish, said an autopsy violates their religious beliefs.

    "I feel that we accomplished our purpose because, pretty much, I was reassured by a number of people that there will never, ever again be an unauthorized autopsy in Montgomery County," said Karen Lee, Alexander Lee's mother.

    The Lees had sought $2 million in compensation and $2 million in punitive damages in their suit.

    "Nothing is going to take it back, but at least we could stop it from happening in the future," Karen Lee said Friday.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:14 PM  

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