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Deputy coroner: Celebrity pathologists errands were higher priority than suicide call
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    PITTSBURGH — A deputy coroner testified Wednesday that she was delayed in getting to a public suicide victim because she had to make personal deliveries for her high-profile boss, who is being tried on suspicion of using county staff to benefit his lucrative private practice.
    Darlene Craig said a supervisor told her to deliver documents or other items for then-Coroner Cyril Wecht as she left for the suicide call, which was a half-hour drive from the coroner’s downtown office.
    ‘‘So I made those three deliveries before I actually went to the hanging,’’ Craig testified. ‘‘And the body was hanging outside.’’
    ‘‘Literally hanging?’’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Stallings asked.
    ‘‘Yes,’’ Craig said.
    Wecht, 76, built a multimillion-dollar practice that has spawned books and television appearances by inquiring into the deaths of Elvis Presley, JonBenet Ramsey and Vincent Foster, among others.
    He is charged in a 41-count indictment with using his Allegheny County staff as bookkeepers, secretaries, couriers and gofers for his private practice and his family. Wecht, who earned no more than $64,000 a year as county coroner, resigned when he was indicted in January 2006.
    Another deputy, Richard Lorah, said Wecht intervened when a supervisor was debating whether to send Lorah on a Wecht errand or to the scene of a woman killed when her car was driven off a parking garage.
    ‘‘They’re not going anywhere; just let them lay there,’’ Wecht said of the victim, according to Lorah.
    Two other deputy coroners testified Wednesday, and all four described so-called ‘‘Wecht details’’ — errands they were assigned several times daily by Wecht himself or, more frequently, his top two deputies and the secretary of his private practice.
    The errands were all done on county time and included taking Wecht or his family to and from the airport or delivering documents to his private offices.
    A deputy coroner said that Wecht gave him $25 for walking his daughter’s dog while on duty, but that otherwise county taxpayers were the only ones paying, prosecutors contend.
    Defense attorneys sought to distance Wecht from the allegations by suggesting that ‘‘Wecht details’’ became routine only after Joe Dominick became chief deputy in the late 1990s.
    Curtis Williams, the dog walker, criticized Dominick’s harsh management style. Williams said he didn’t mind the errands and was proud to work for Wecht, whom he called a ‘‘great doctor.’’
    But other Williams testimony was damaging to Wecht, including the fact that he was given the dog-walking job by Dominick’s predecessor.
    Williams also said Wecht was angry when he learned that a supervisor gave written instructions for some errands. Wecht told Williams the supervisor ‘‘shouldn’t be writing stuff like this down.’’
    Craig said Wecht’s managers made his priorities clear from the start.
    ‘‘It has always been my understanding, from day one of 1999 when I was employed ... that (Wecht details) took priority over our day-to-day’’ duties, Craig said.

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