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Morgue To Charge For Storing Bodies; Many Are Deceased Migrants

Aired 11/9/11 on KPBS News.

The Pima County morgue will start charging a daily fee for bodies that aren't picked up in a timely manner. Many have died entering the U.S. through Arizona's harsh desert terrain.

— The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to start charging rent for bodies that aren't picked up from the county morgue in a timely manner. The new fee is aimed at reducing overcrowding – primarily from deceased border-crossers.

Pima County provides autopsy services and morgue space for much of the state. Many of the bodies held at the morgue are of migrants who die crossing into the U.S. from Mexico - 230 of them in 2010. To house the excess bodies, the county had to rent a refrigerated truck last year.

Now, it’s taking a different approach to reduce overcrowding.

“We wanted to create a storage fee by which we could provide an incentive, so to speak, to pick up remains if we we're having trouble getting them released,” said Dr. Gregory Hess, Pima County’s chief medical examiner.

If bodies cannot be identified or family members cannot be located, counties where the bodies were found must pick up the tab for burying the deceased.

Hess said they often drag their feet.

Now they’ll be charged $75 a day for bodies that remain in the morgue more than 30 days after notification that they're ready for pick up.

Still, Hess said that doesn’t mean attempts to identify the deceased will stop after 30 days.

"If we do find out who they are eventually, we can still exhume them and return their remains or repatriate their remains to wherever they came from," Hess said. "But they definitely don’t need to stay here in refrigeration.”

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