I-Team: Somebody's Someone

January 26, 2012 4:48:38 AM PST
The crisis at the Cook County morgue has led to new action after the I-Team's reports about bodies and body parts piling up at the morgue.

The I-Team has learned new legislation will be filed Thursday morning by Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey that would make it easier to remove the medical examiner from office.

The disturbing photos are of somebody's spouse, sibling or child. Of the hundreds of bodies left to rot in the morgue, not all are homeless, destitute and unclaimed. And, according to a south suburban family affected, not all of them can even be accounted for.

"We are very close, we do almost everything together, we take family vacations together every other year. Every year in between we have a reunion at the park, and it's always a blast," said Sheila Hostetler.

The Warren family is made up of 12 brothers and sisters...or there were, until just after Christmas when Brian Warren disappeared. The 52-year-old Englewood resident was last seen December 28th at a neighborhood church attending bible class. His sister, Bernice Terry, had dropped him off.

"We called the hospitals," said Terry. "We called the morgue, and they said they didn't have a Brian Warren or a John Doe that came around December 28th to that date."

"My sister did fliers. They were going into abandoned buildings, canvassing and interviewing neighbors, people in different areas of Chicago," said Sheila Hostetler, Brian's sister.

New Year's Day came and went. Fearing the worst, for nearly two weeks Warren family members say they filed a police report and called the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

"You'd get a little bit of hope when you'd call the morgue and they'd say he's not there," said Hostetler.

On January 11th, someone at St. Bernard Hospital told the family that Brian Warren had been brought into the E.R. two weeks earlier, dead of a heart attack and was taken to the county morgue. So once again, his sisters called the morgue.

"I said, I'm looking for my brother Brian Warren, and the lady said, he's not on the chart, and I said, St. Bernard just said he's there. She said, I'm sorry he's not on the chart," said Terry.

The Warrens couldn't know it, but their brother was indeed at Cook County morgue - somewhere among the hundreds of bodies that had been stacked up in open boxes and bags, crammed onto shelves and piled on the floor of the morgue. And he had been there since December 29th, the day after he collapsed walking home from bible study.

But the family says until they provided a hospital case number, the county medical examiner's office was clueless.

"So our brother's been in the morgue for two weeks and we are just now finding him? That is not acceptable. That's not right," said Terry.

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey says he agrees.

"The loss of a family member is a traumatic enough experience without having it being made worse by a bureaucratic mishap," said Fritchy. "On behalf of the county, I want to apologize to that family. But we need to make sure no other family has to go through that again."

Fritchey says you can't blame shoddy service on state budget cuts, the reason that medical examiner Dr. Nancy Jones has offered for the backlog of bodies: not enough funding for indigent burials.

On January 19th, Brian Warren's family finally had his funeral. But last week, when they saw the I-Team's reports with behind-the-scenes photos, they had to speak out.

"This is not just a job, you are dealing with lives, you are dealing with families, loved ones, you have to go the extra mile to check and reach check to indentify everyone that comes into your care and notify the families and let them know you have their loved ones," said Hostetler.

"We get up in the morning and I lay down at night...it don't go away," said Terry.

A Cook County spokesperson says it's not the morgue's job to notify relatives of dead people. She says that is up to hospitals and police. No one from the morgue would agree to interviews for this story or allow the I-Team inside to see if conditions are any better. To make matters worse, the family says that Brian Warren's wallet and cell phone are also missing from the morgue, even though the hospital identified him with a driver's license from his wallet and says the wallet and cell phone were both sent to the morgue.