Coroner, board chairman clash over Kane County Morgue issues

GENEVA, Ill. (WLS) -- The coroner and the county board chairman have differences over the old Kane County Morgue, and everything from curious electrical wiring to Silly Putty.

The morgue is an old building that was found to have a mold problem earlier this summer. It was temporarily relocated and the mold was removed, but when the cleaning crew left, they flipped a switch that created a new headache.

The mold remediation team didn't know that when they flipped a light switch that they were also cutting electricity to a refrigerator that contains blood and tissue samples for hundreds of criminal and civil cases in Kane County going back to 2001. The power was out for anywhere from one to four days before staffers discovered what had happened.

"(Any of them lost? Anything crucial?) We don't know if they're lost or not," said Kane County Coroner Rob Russell. "We're hopeful the samples will still be good, but I can't promise that it is."

The coroner and his staff didn't know that the switch regulated the cooler, but the wiring is symptomatic, the coroner says, of a building that was once a laundry for a monastery. Space is at a premium. When visitors must identify lost loved ones, they do so in a room that ordinarily functions as a small hallway. The push for a new morgue has created some friction between the coroner and county board chairman.

"I don't like the fact that we need a new facility any more than he does, but the people's money needs to be spent in a responsible way, and this building, I mean, it's just not a long-term solution," said Russell.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen says the reality is a new coroner's facility is included in the county's five-year capital plan, and that the more immediate issue with the coroner is that "he overspends," won't stay within budget, has too many vehicles, performs unnecessary autopsies, and spent $1,200 on Silly Putty gifts for kids, which Lauzen calls offensive to taxpayers.

Russell says it's simple community outreach, 0.01 percent of his budget, and meant to improve impressions of an office darkened by past problems.

"For years this office has been neglected and I will continue to do what I do and if I lose an election because of it, then that's fine. At least I can sleep at night," said Russell.

There is no specific timetable for a new morgue, but the arrival of a new freezer in 6-8 weeks will allow autopsies again. They've been done since mid-June in DuPage County.

The light switch that controls the cooler doesn't have a "don't turn me off" sticky note on it, but the coroner says there are plans for some rewiring.
Copyright © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.