The task is grim, but something leaders say is necessary.
With the state shutting down crime labs, a number of Georgia coroners frequently can’t send deceased citizens directly to the state for examination. There is now often a waiting period.
Madison County coroner Julie Phillips spoke with county commissioners about this issue April 7. She noted that she has to work with local hospitals and funeral homes to store bodies before they can be sent to the state crime lab, a wait that has lasted as long as four days.
Phillips expressed gratitude to hospitals and funeral homes for providing the service, but she said this brings “chain-of-custody” issues. For instance, what if a deceased person is missing jewelry or an article of clothing that could prove valuable to a family member or part of an investigation? Phillips said she is responsible for the deceased in her care and she isn’t comfortable turning those over to someone else prior to a death investigation. Likewise, she said she’s stored a body at a hospital, but then the hospital has a death on one of its floors and she is asked to pick up the body, because there’s no longer space at the hospital morgue.
“We need a location where there’s security and where there’s a chain of custody,” said Phillips.
She also said she’s concerned about the limited space for body storage. Other counties are facing similar predicaments.
“My concern is getting into a situation where no funeral home is able to help,” said Phillips.
The BOC approved Phillips’ suggestion that a locked cooling storage facility be constructed at the county sheriff’s office, which could hold six-to-eight bodies. The board voted 4-0 to move forward with the project, with commissioner Stanley Thomas abstaining. The group agreed to spend an initial $7,500 on cooling equipment for the building. The BOC will also need to address construction costs for the small building that will be placed on the back side of the sheriff’s complex. The county is in the process of planning for a jail expansion, which will be covered with sales tax funds. The body storage facility will be done in conjunction with that expansion project.
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