By THOMAS C. TOBIN St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2000 Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood said Wednesday that she is reviewing the accuracy of an estimated 150 autopsies, an unprecedented move brought about by the questionable work of a doctor who was forced to resign from her office last month. So far, the review has resulted in a dramatic turnabout in at least one case: the death of Pinellas Park teenager Brannon Lee Jones, whose body was found Dec. 26 inside his burned car. Pinellas Park police once thought his death to be an accident or a suicide. But based on new information recently uncovered by Wood's office, detectives began investigating it as a homicide. The doctor who performed the autopsy on Jones and about 150 others was Richard O. Eicher, 60, of Seminole. He declined to comment Wednesday. Wood called it a "sad" situation. Eicher is "a very bright man," she said, but was in over his head. Although a veteran pathologist, he lacked training and experience in forensic pathology, and Wood said her office was too busy to train him. She said the problem came to light when she and an associate reviewed a suicide autopsy performed by Eicher. The victim had been shot through the head, and Eicher got the entrance and exit wounds mixed up -- an elementary mistake, Wood said. "And yet," she added, "there were other cases he did an excellent job on." In the case of Brannon Jones, Wood confirmed the official cause of death has been changed, but she declined to give more details. Pinellas Park police would not discuss the case Wednesday. However, Jones's mother, Connie Ellis, said detectives have told her that some leads in the case have gone cold and she has "every right to be mad." "I knew it wasn't a suicide," Ellis said. Her 17-year-old son was being treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and some of his friends were involved with drugs. But he had just received money over Christmas to license his car, had passed his GED test and was planning to attend St. Petersburg Junior College, Ellis said. No drugs were found in his system, she said. Wood said her review has turned up at least one additional case in which the cause of death has been changed. More could follow, she said. Eicher's personnel file contains little detail about his brief tenure in Wood's office, where he started on Aug. 23, 1999, and resigned March 13. Wood amplified, saying, "He would not have been working at my office any longer, one way or another." Wood said most of the mistakes in Eicher's autopsies were minor, but corrections are being made to remove doubt about the office's work, she said. "How many other cases did he screw up on and these people don't know how their family members passed away?" asked Ellis, who said she is talking with a lawyer about her son's case. As a result of Eicher's initial work, she said, Pinellas Park detectives never questioned one of her son's associates, a young man who has since left the state. The review also raises questions for Debra Wooten, whose brother's body was autopsied by Eicher in November. Paul V. Bruneau Jr., 50, was found in Tampa Bay near Weedon Island, his body decomposed after six days in the water. Wooten said detectives think her brother jumped off the Gandy Bridge, but she wonders whether he was attacked. Bruneau had just gotten out of prison. But he had become religious and was looking forward to visiting his family in Melbourne. The family can't imagine him committing suicide, she said. Wooten's suspicions grew after dealing with Eicher over the phone. She said the doctor discounted an attack, saying that there was no cutting or bruising in her brother's mouth and that all his teeth were gone from decay. But when Wooten ordered 14 photos of the autopsy, she saw a full set of teeth. She also found no photos of her brother's back and none of his entire body, head to toe. Meanwhile, she has waited five months for the autopsy report. "There's no closure," Wooten said. "My brother had been a bad penny in many ways, but he was still my brother, and if somebody had done something to him we want to know that." Eicher is an osteopathic physician. Osteopathy is a branch of medicine which holds that displaced bones, nerves and muscles are at the root of most ailments. Eicher worked as a pathologist at a Largo laboratory from 1977 until 1996, when it closed. He left for the Florida Keys, landing a job with the District 16 medical examiner in Marathon. Robert J. Nelms Jr., the medical examiner there, said Wood never contacted him to discuss Eicher before she hired him. Nelms said Eicher was disorganized and tended to lag behind on paperwork. His final two months in the Keys were spent catching up on cases, Nelms said. Wood said she often does not contact a job applicant's references, preferring to interview other sources. "We got good replies" concerning Eicher, Wood said. And in a personal interview before hiring him, "I got no bad vibes," she said. The problem comes as Wood weathers criticism in an unrelated matter, the 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson. After originally saying McPherson's death was "undetermined" and caused by "bed rest and severe dehydration" at the Church's of Scientology's Clearwater retreat, Wood recently changed her ruling, calling it an accident. Her initial ruling led to criminal charges against the church, and now Scientology officials are saying the case should be dropped. Lawyers for the church and the state attorney's office, as well as Chief Circuit Judge Susan F. Schaeffer, have expressed concern and confusion about Wood's handling of the Scientology case. Wood has been the Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner since 1982. She said Wednesday that the state attorney's office wants to meet with her about "some concerns," but she didn't know what they were. State Attorney Bernie McCabe said he did not know how the review of Eicher's work would affect pending cases. - Times staff writers Edie Gross, Jane Meinhardt and Leanora Minai contributed to this report.