STOCKTON — Earlier this month, Brittany Gonzales asked her mother to place a painful call to the San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office to find out when the autopsy report for her 2-year-old son would be ready.
Gonzales’ son, Jaxson Love, died last July, allegedly at the hands of his stepmother, Chalsea Maynard, 31. Maynard is charged in Stockton with killing the bright-eyed boy by inflicting a “blunt-force head injury,” according to the coroner.
“How long do autopsy reports generally take?” Roberta Galvan, Gonzales’ mother, asked when she called the coroner’s office.
“No more than four months,” was the response.
“It’s been eight months,” Galvan continued. “It’s going to be nine this month.”
The woman at the coroner’s office reported that a doctor still needed to read the report.
During an interview last week, 28-year-old Gonzales admitted she is running out of patience. As of late Friday, Gonzales and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office still did not have copies of Jaxson’s autopsy report.
“I have never reached out to the coroner’s office myself,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t think I would need to bug them. But it’s going on nine months. It’s a little bit too long.”
Gonzales’ concerns come at a pivotal moment for San Joaquin County’s sheriff/coroner office. But Deputy David Konecny, the department spokesman, states flatly that recent upheaval in the coroner’s office has nothing to do with the slow pace of completing Jaxson’s autopsy report.
Still, it cannot be denied that the coroner’s office is in the midst of a major transition following the resignations of the department’s two pathologists, Dr. Bennet Omalu and Dr. Susan Parson. Both blame Sheriff/Coroner Steve Moore — citing interference and strained relations — for giving them no choice but to resign in late 2017.
Parson gave her three-month notice Nov. 27, and wrote in her resignation letter that she would spend her remaining time on the job “completing and finalizing reports for the more than 150 open autopsy cases to which I am assigned.” Omalu, who declined to answer questions for this article, described a similar remaining workload when he submitted his resignation letter eight days after Parson.
Konecny, Moore’s spokesman, acknowledged Jaxson’s autopsy report has taken much longer than most, saying four or five months is a more typical length of time.
The spokesman provided a comparison between Jaxson’s timeline and that of an anonymous 2-year-old killed by blunt-force head trauma in 2016.
In that case, the autopsy report was completed four months to the day after the child’s death.
“The pathologist orders any testing he wants completed on a case-by-case basis,” Konecny wrote. “This information is provided to them and they issue a final report. We cannot close the case until all of these reports are finalized and provided to our office.”
With Parson and Omalu gone, the work these days is being done by contracted pathologists. Asked if the recent upheaval has played any role in delaying completion of Jaxson’s autopsy, Konecny provided a simple, direct answer: “No.”
Jaxson died last July 31. The Coroner’s Office lists Jaxson’s cause of death as “blunt force head injury.” A timeline of Jaxson’s postmortem procedures, provided by Konecny, shows a nearly four-month gap between when toxicology results were received last Aug. 30 and when "Pathologist 1" began “follow-up” work Dec. 20. Konecny said "Pathologist 1" is Parson. The "follow-up work" took exactly one month.
After that, five additional weeks passed before a neuropathology exam was completed and another five weeks passed before a pathologist “requested information from case file so the Neuropathology Report could be completed,” by "Pathologist 2," identified as Omalu by Konecny.
As of late last week, the report was “pending corrections from the Pathologist 2 neuropathology report,” according to Konecny.
While this has been going on, Gonzales has been waiting and wondering about the report, and Maynard, the 31-year-old suspect, has been in custody at the county jail pending progress in the legal process. And it is hardly lost on Gonzales that the coroner’s office has been in transition all this time.
“It was hard for me to hear Dr. Parson and Dr. Omalu resigned,” Gonzales said. “It was smack in the middle of what’s going on in our case.”
The trauma of losing Jaxson is never far from the surface for Gonzales, who lives in Salida and has two daughters.
“He was a little ray of sunshine in my life, my only son,” Gonzales said. “His smile would light up the room. He loved to sing, loved to dance.
“There’s a special bond between a mother and son. My world is definitely not the same without him.”
Jaxson lives on, in a sense, as a heart and liver donor to two boys in Southern California.
“Out of all the darkness that happened to him, it’s a little light,” Gonzales said.
But only a little.
“It feels like you have a cut,” she said. “It’s trying to scab over, but nothing lets it scab over, it keeps bleeding and bleeding and bleeding. It’s like I’m slowly dying inside.”
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.