Coroner’s office moving to law enforcement center garage

Temporary switch while new, permanent location sought

Posted 6/11/19

Park County Coroner Tim Power learned last month that he needed a new place to store the bodies that his office handles — and fast.

For decades, Park County has relied on the hospitality of …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Coroner’s office moving to law enforcement center garage

Temporary switch while new, permanent location sought

Posted

Park County Coroner Tim Power learned last month that he needed a new place to store the bodies that his office handles — and fast.

For decades, Park County has relied on the hospitality of the Cody and Powell funeral homes, who’ve freely allowed the coroner’s office to place its refrigeration units in their businesses.

Power thought the county might want to build a facility of its own in a few years, but the situation became unexpectedly urgent in May. That’s when Ballard Funeral Home in Cody notified Power that, once it gets a new refrigeration unit this month, it will no longer have room for the coroner’s equipment.

Power will continue to have access to space at Thompson Funeral Home in Powell, but “our problem is coming up, because we’ve got summer months coming, too,” he told commissioners. “Things always get busy.”

As a temporary solution, Park County Sheriff Scott Steward has agreed to allow the coroner to work out of an empty garage bay at the Cody Law Enforcement Center. While being an inconvenience, Steward said the space can be modified to accommodate the coroner at “very, very limited” cost and without impacting his office’s operations.

For a permanent solution, county officials indicated they’d like to construct a new building next to the law enforcement center.

Initially, staffers considered moving the coroner and the body refrigerator to the Park County Office Building, which sits near the courthouse. However, it would be an expensive process to remodel the space into an exam room — and the proposal ran into objections from workers in the adjoining offices.

“No one was thrilled about it,” said Park County Landfill Office Manager Sandie Morris.

While the staff would welcome Power, “we did not want his entourage,” Morris quipped.

Some in the building initially thought the proposal was a practical joke. But as buildings and grounds staff began measuring the woodshop to see where “cadaver coolers” might fit, Morris said it became clear that the county was seriously considering the idea.

“Everybody did kind of panic,” she said. “It was a tense couple days there until they figured out what they were going to do.”

In a memo to commissioners, Park County Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Mike Garza said the consensus was to avoid placing the coroner there “if at all possible, due to the proximity of [Cody High School] and the public traffic at the Courthouse and Public Works building.”

Power had cautioned commissioners in late May that not just any location would work.

“We’re going to have to have it in a location that we’re not going to have a problem if a communicable disease situation or something is brought in — or if we have a situation with a death dealing with decomposition, where we’ve got odor,” Power explained.

Sheriff Steward said the garage bay at the law enforcement center already has the equipment to ventilate the space. As for building a new facility, he noted the land behind the law enforcement center already has infrastructure in place.

Steward said it would be “ideal” to have the coroner’s space nearby, given how closely the two agencies work. The coroner helps investigate the cause when a death is unexpected or the deceased is unidentified.

“After we deal with a death, the officers … are usually down there with him at Ballard’s [Funeral Home] finishing their investigation that they need to, so there’s always that interaction — and this would make it that much closer,” Steward said.

Ballard Funeral Home has long provided space for the county coroner, but after one of its refrigeration units failed, the funeral home decided to upgrade to a larger one to accommodate the growing Cody area. That won’t leave enough space for the coroner’s unit.

With fewer funeral home directors running for or being elected to coroner positions around Wyoming, “there’s counties all over the state that are starting to run into this,” said Power, who previously owned Ballard.

Although the loss of the space accelerated the discussion about giving the coroner’s office its own facility, “it’s something that I think the county needs to do,” Power said.

He said it won’t have to be fancy, not needing much more than an exam room, a handicap-accessible bathroom, a small office and space for the refrigeration unit and viewing of remains. The cost, construction timeline and other details of the planned facility have yet to be determined.

Steward said he’s willing to house the coroner as long as things continue to move toward a permanent solution.

“We’re here to help,” he said, joking that, “Certainly if it drags on for years, we’re masters of eviction at the sheriff’s office.”

Meanwhile, staffers at the county’s public works building are feeling relieved that a better solution was found.

“The sheriff came to our rescue,” Morris laughed.

Comments