Coroner wants room for coolers instead of rented office space

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

As coroner, John Clifton will add a new warm body to the Cape Girardeau County government on Jan. 1.

But what will the new coroner do with the cold bodies that come his way?

Clifton met with the county commission Monday to talk about that.

Clifton told the commission he would like to see the county rent space to store bodies that were involved in automobile accidents, drownings, homicides, suicides or any matter that involves an investigation. In such cases, coroners must take blood samples of the victims and investigators have to take photographs. A rented space, Clifton said, would provide a more secure and clinical setting.

Currently such corpses are stored in the county's own coolers at area funeral homes at a cost of $100 per day. County Auditor David Ludwig said the county rented space for fewer than 10 days this year.

To offset the cost of the new space, Clifton said the county wouldn't need to rent office space for the position. He said as long as he had some space for file storage and access to a copier, he wouldn't need much office space.

The county currently pays $175 a month for an office on Kingshighway, but that lease will not be renewed next year.

Clifton said one of the biggest reasons the county should have its own body storage space is for better security.

He said no one except the coroner's office and the proper law enforcement officials should have access to bodies, particularly those of people who died in suspicious circumstances.

Also, there is the issue of keeping a dead person's belongings secure.

To that end, Clifton said a local funeral home has offered to rent the county space for $175 per month. The climate-controlled space would be big enough to store the county's two-body cooler. It would also have enough room to serve as a makeshift morgue in the event of a disaster that caused mass casualties, Clifton said. The space could also be secured.

On Tuesday, Clifton said that particular deal gave the county the best facility for the money, but other negotiations are in the works, he said.

"We need some place to keep these bodies," he said. "We have an obligation to treat these bodies with respect and dignity."

Clifton said one funeral home as well as Scott County have offered garage space for free, "which would be better than nothing." But they would be neither secure nor climate controlled.

The county commission told Clifton to put the request in writing and the county would decide the issue later.


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