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County considers what to do with stored human remains

October 03, 2016 - 3:46 PM

HELENA, Mont. - Lewis and Clark County is trying to figure out what to do with dozens of decades-old body parts still stored on county property after the longtime coroner died.

The Helena Independent Record reports ( ) that county officials are calling for a financial audit in the wake of Coroner M.E. "Mickey" Nelson's Sept. 11 death and asking that uncatalogued items be dealt with as deputy coroner Bryan Backeberg takes over.

Nelson was coroner for 42 years before his death. He had been criticized for falling behind on finalizing death certificates and for being disorganized. Previously, Nelson was under fire for failing to finalize the cause of death on dozens of death certificates.

Now the county is looking at whether to move human remains dating back to the 1980s to an independent party for storage so Backeberg can have a clean slate.

The coroner's office is currently home to personal effects taken from death scenes for use in determining causes and manners of deaths, as well as human organs, body parts, fluids and other items that an Aug. 11 inventory was not able to identify.

In all, 96 items relating to 57 cases are still in county custody. Of those items, 49 are stored without refrigeration and 38 of those are listed as "unknown body part."

One unknown body part has no date on it and the oldest item is apparently from 1986.

County Attorney Leo Gallagher told county commissioners that the coroner has the discretion to dispose of such specimen without notifying the deceased person's relatives or the permission of the court. He said the county commission cannot and should not "interfere with the coroner's duties as to the disposition of such specimens."

Some county officials want the specimen to be treated with more respect. Commissioner Susan Good Geise said she wanted the county to hold a ceremony that would address the issues.

"This has been a horrible process to have tried to figure out what is the legal thing and what is the moral thing and what is the kind thing and to get the nexus on those three things," she said.


Information from: Independent Record,

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
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