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In the earlier part of the twentieth century, Florida elected peace justices in each county who held inquests when deaths occurred. Following World War II, certain persons recognized the need for a medical examiner system. These persons included Sheriff Thomas Kelly and Mrs. Claire Weintraub, a local resident active in civic affairs. Consequently, laws were approved that provided for a full-time medical examiner who would be a County employee, and an office that would operate under the county government. On March 16, 1956, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Department officially opened its doors.

Dr. Stanley Durlacher, a forensic pathologist and professor in the School of Medicine at Louisiana State University was selected as the County’s first Medical Examiner. Serving as the first Assistant Medical Examiner, Dr. Joseph H. Davis would succeed to the Chief’s position less than a year later after Dr. Durlacher died in February 1957.

Dr. Davis’ tenure as Chief Medical Examiner would span four decades – from 1957 to 1996. The department opened its operation in what had been Philbrick’s ambulance garage, located between 9th and 10th avenues on the east side of Jackson Memorial Hospital. The Medical Examiner Offices would move two more times, always in proximity to Jackson Hospital, before arriving at its present location at Number One on Bob Hope Road (1851 NW 10th Avenue).

In honor of Dr. Davis and his many years of service to the County, the present facility is designated the “Dr. Joseph H. Davis Center for Forensic Pathology.” This complex, which was constructed at a cost of $10.2 million and encompasses 89,500 square feet, opened in April 1988.

When Dr. Davis retired, Dr. Roger E. Mittleman succeeded to the position of Chief and guided the department through one of its more serious challenges – the crash of ValuJet flight #592 on May 11, 1996.

From 2001 to 2016, Dr. Bruce A. Hyma served as Director. Concurrent with his duties as Miami-Dade County's Chief Medical Examiner, he served as Chairman of the State Medical Examiners Commission and held a volunteer faculty appointment as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pathology at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine. In 1987, Dr. Hyma came to Miami to complete his education at the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department’s forensic pathology fellowship program.  After completing his formal education, Dr. Hyma joined the department as an Assistant Medical Examiner. In 2001, after a nationwide search, Dr. Hyma was selected as the Department Director and Chief Medical Examiner. During his decades of service, he oversaw more than 30,000 autopsies, including some of South Florida’s most high profile cases.  Dr. Hyma’s influence on the forensic pathology profession was immense.  On February 18, 2015, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences presented Dr. Hyma with the Pathology/Biology Section’s Milton Helpern Award which recognizes outstanding contributions to Forensic Pathology.

Following Dr. Hyma’s retirement in April of 2016, Dr. Emma O. Lew was appointed as Director. Dr. Emma Lew has dedicated the past 25 years to the Forensic Pathology profession.  She joined the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Department as an Associate Medical Examiner in 1992 and was promoted to Deputy Chief Medical Examiner in 2001.  As Deputy Chief, Dr. Lew provided sound leadership to the Department and sage counsel to the Chief Medical Examiner. She ensured that the Department maintained its strict National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) Accreditation standards and managed a world-renowned training program that prepared over one hundred visiting physicians, Forensic Pathology Fellows, and Associate Medical Examiners for senior forensic pathologist positions throughout the world. Assisted by more than eighty other persons, she now leads a team of pathologists, photographers, investigators, toxicologists, and technicians that handles nearly 13,000 cases a year and stands prepared to serve County residents in the event of disasters such as Hurricane Andrew and the ValuJet crash of 1996.

Back to Top Page Last Edited: Fri Sep 30, 2016 2:25:30 PM

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