FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County Chief Forensic Pathologist Dr. Venu Gopal, who was killed in a crash on Saturday, is being remembered as a hard-working and vital member of the Sheriff-Coroner's Office.
The 69-year-old was looking forward to retiring after a 30-year career.
But on Saturday, his Nissan crossed the center line and careened off highway 168 near Beale Fire Road, plunging 200 feet down the mountainside near Auberry. He was not wearing a seat belt.
Dr. Gopal's death shocked family and friends.
"He's been a fixture here in local law enforcement for 30 years. He's the one that's done a majority of the autopsies over the last several years," said Sheriff-elect John Zanoni.
Dr. Gopal performed autopsies, collected medical evidence and evaluated crime scenes.
He's testified in thousands of homicide trials over the years, so his loss could complicate future cases.
Zanoni said colleagues of Dr. Gopal need time to grieve but understand the work must continue.
"There's a lot of cases that he's done, so there's some things that we're going to have to work out, as far as all the work that he has done and now that he's no longer with us, how do we move forward in prosecuting those cases?"
The county was in the process of hiring another forensic pathologist because of Dr. Gopal's retirement plans.
His court caseload and autopsies will now be handled by forensic pathologist, Dr. Angellee Chen and deputy coroners.
They'll carry on with heavy hearts.
"His work ethic is unmatched. Probably second to none," said Zanoni.
Dr. Gopal is survived by his wife and two kids.