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Mulling Over Adding a Morgue for Cass County - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Mulling Over Adding a Morgue for Cass County

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Right now the Cass County Coroner's Office is running out of the home of one of the Deputy Coroner's. And they say now, more than ever, they need space to handle a growing caseload.

The Cass County Board of Commissioners plans to talk today about adding morgue space to the old Sunmart location on 13th Avenue South, Fargo, what will be the new home for the public health department.

But so far commissioners have balked at the estimated $600,000 price tag.

The county does not have a morgue at present. Bodies have been stored at local funeral homes while police investigate possible crimes and while county death investigators seek out the deceased's next of kin.

The meeting is set for Monday, at 3:30 p.m. in the Cass County Commission room. 

 

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The Cass County Coroner is facing a challenging job as the number of dead bodies grows and the space to keep them shrinks.

That could soon change if county commissioners approve building a morgue in the old Sunmart/CVS Building on 13th Avenue South.

As Valley News Team's Hope Hanselman shows us that addition would relieve some surprising conditions the Coroner and deputies are working in now.

Tucked away in an attic the size of storage unit is the center of death investigations in Cass County.

"The County Coroner's office has been basically been my house," Kriste Ross, deputy coroner for the county, said as she pulled out body bags stored in an old family dresser.

But, Ross isn't paid by the county. She's contracted by the coroner, who needs more resources. She's turned her upstairs space into a make-shift office and, every day, goes without a fax, copier, scanner or any space to meet with families of the bodies she examines. Still, perhaps the greatest hurdle is going without a county morgue.

"It's just that we have nowhere to put bodies; and it's just becoming really frustrating," Ross said.

For decades, local funeral homes have come to the rescue, storing bodies free of charge.

The Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home is one of two on a rotating basis of acting on call for the coroner's office every other month. So far, the county has been skating by but times are quickly changing.

"The increase in population directly correlates to an increased amount of deaths that need to be investigated," Alex Rydell, a Licensed Funeral Director, said.

Funeral homes are running out of room to store bodies.

"I don't know if we're at 'the tipping point,' but we're certainly getting close," Rydell said.

Meanwhile, Ross is running out of resources to get the work done.

"The need for body storage is right now, not five years from now. Five years from now it's going to be triple what we're doing," she said.

On Monday, October 21, the County Commission will vote to make Ross and one other investigator county employees. When commissioner Mary Scherling was asked about adding morgue space at the old 13th Avenue Sunmart location, she said it is a big expense; and she and other commissioners have more questions before moving forward.

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