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Emergency repair for leaking morgue freezer costs coroner $3,500

GENEVA – A broken compressor in the morgue freezer at the Kane County Coroners building caused two bodies stored there to decompose and leak over the Thanksgiving holiday, Coroner Rob Russell said Friday.

The freezer was working Wednesday, Russell said. But when deputy coroners answered a death call on Thursday, as soon as they entered the coroner’s office in Building E of the government center, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Russell said they knew by the smell that something was wrong.

“The bodies had begun to liquefy, and the smell of decomposition began to overpower the office,” Russell said. “Luckily, we caught it in time for us to take immediate action.”

Except for the staff secretaries, Russell said, everyone was called in. They put on hazmat suits and began to clean up, as the leaking bodies created a health hazard

The bodies were all put into a cooler which slowed decomposition while repairs began Friday morning. The repair process was ongoing at 2:30 p.m. Friday, when Russell sent out an email detailing the situation.

“It needed a new compressor,” Russell said. “He [the repair man] had to drive to Elk Grove Village to get some parts. The repair cost will be $3,500.”

Russell said he will submit the bill to the county board.

“I want it to be understood that I will hold the line, but I cannot control things when freezers break,” Russell said. “I will do everything I can to stay within budget and fix things that are broken. ... Some things are being said to the press that I’m a spendthrift,
and I want to nip that in the bud right away because it’s not the truth.”

Russell was referring to a recent struggle to get additional funding for the coroner’s office.

Russell had said his office, formerly led by the now-deceased Chuck West, had been underfunded. He tallied a shortfall of about $88,000 this year because of expenses for autopsies, toxicology, overtime and fuel. 

Russell initially proposed a 2014 budget of nearly $944,000 in August, but he agreed to keep his budget at $843,000 for the next three years, barring expenses out of his control.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen this week stressed “holding the line” on future budget expenditures.

The county board is expected to take final action on it Dec. 10.

“We had to get it done and not shop at Walmart or the Dollar Store and get a better deal,” Russell said of the freezer repair. “We could not be pennywise and pound foolish and not get the job done right.”

Lauzen said he could not comment on Russell’s concerns until he receives the coroner’s letter and reads it. 

Board member Barb Wojnicki, R-St. Charles, who is chairwoman of the Judicial and Public Safety Committee, said the county still has money in contingency funds and should be able to cover the repair cost.

“If it’s broken, it has to be repaired, and he has to be able to do his job,” Wojnicki said. “It’s not a huge, huge expense.”

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