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Coroner’s refrigeration units shut off during mold remediation

Published: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 10:28 p.m. CDT

GENEVA – An unmarked light switch in the Kane County morgue has caused yet another problem for the coroner’s office.

Crews conducting mold remediation in the Geneva facility last month turned the switch off in the course of their work, Coroner Rob Russell said.

But instead of turning off lights, he said, the flipped switch turned off refrigeration units containing thousands of samples of blood and body tissue – materials that could be tied to criminal and civil litigation.

On Monday, Russell briefly turned the switch off to demonstrate his bewilderment that the crews didn’t notice the noisy refrigeration units were silenced with the switch.

“Gee, it really got quiet here,” Russell said.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen said the coroner could have taken such precautions as labeling or covering the switch to prevent the situation from happening. He noted people are trained to turn off lights.

“If the lights are on and you’re going to leave the room, what do you do?” Lauzen said.

Russell doesn’t know how long the refrigeration units were off, as he and his staff weren’t in the building at the time of remediation, he said.

The remediation was done by a company hired by the county, Lauzen said. He did not have the cost of information readily available Monday but described it as “expensive.”

Since finding the refrigeration units turned off, Russell’s staff has been working to catalog the contents – a time-consuming task because of the office’s antiquated filing system, he said.

The list ultimately will be given to the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office. In addition to distributing the list internally, State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said his office will disclose the information to the court and to the defense counsel of any and all pending cases related to the samples.

“It’s premature to guess how it’s going to impact any of the cases,” McMahon said.

But, he said – acknowledging he won’t know for sure until his office gets the list – “we don’t believe it’s going to have a negative impact.”

Russell, meanwhile, is in the process of buying new equipment so forensic operations can return to Kane County.

The operations were outsourced to DuPage County when the mold was found. Members of the County Board directed him last week to get his facilities operational.

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