‘Snafu’ at Kane Co. coroner’s office pulled plug on evidence fridge
By Gloria Casas For Sun-Times Media August 8, 2014 7:52PM
Kane County Coroner Rob Russell checks out the room where autopsies are usually held and where evidence is stored in refrigerators and freezers. | Gloria Casas~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 11, 2014 6:46AM
Kane County authorities must do an inventory of evidence held in two refrigerators that were accidentally turned off when crews were cleaning mold in the Kane County Coroner’s office last month.
“Some samples may be compromised,” Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said. “We may have lost some samples in that snafu.”
Russell’s staff is combing through the items stored in the refrigerators to develop a list to give to the state’s attorney’s office, he said.
State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said Friday that he was informed of the situation July 29. His office requested an inventory of the items and the investigations or cases to which they are connected, he said.
“I don’t believe this will have any negative impact on pending criminal cases,” McMahon said, adding that he does not think evidence in any pending murder cases is affected. He said he believes the evidence may be related to cases that are 12 to 13 years old.
But Russell said there was evidence from cases dating from 2001 to this year.
“There were many years within those two refrigerators and freezer. You have to keep homicide samples forever,” Russell said.
Evidence includes “blood samples, organ samples or anything a forensic pathologist advises should be saved” for a criminal case, he said.
A crew doing cleanup turned off a light switch in the coroner’s office, not knowing the switch also turned off the refrigerator, Russell said.
The light switch did not have a sign indicating crews should not touch it or stating the refrigerators were connected to it, McMahon said.
Russell was out of town at a convention when the cleanup work was done.
Coroner’s employees were given 48 hours to leave the building for the crew to complete the mold remediation, Russell said. The refrigerators were secured and operating when the employees left.
The cleanup occurred from a Thursday to the following Monday, he said. An employee noticed on Monday that the refrigerators were warm, he said. “We don’t know when it happened. I don’t know how long it was off. It was possible it was off for several days or it could have been a day.”
The coroner’s office did not hire the crew — the county did — and had no communication with the company, Russell said.
“This is unforeseen,” he said. “It would have not happened if we had better communication.”