Leaking Kane County morgue freezer gets emergency repair

Kane County will pay $3,500 for fix

GENEVA – A broken compressor in the morgue freezer at the Kane County coroner’s office 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 Kane County 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.”

He said everyone except the staff secretaries was called in.

They put on hazmat suits and began to clean up, as the leaking bodies created a health hazard.

The bodies were put into a cooler, which slowed decomposition while repairs began Friday morning.

The repair process was still underway 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 Kane 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.”

He 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 tests, 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 Kane County Board is expected to take final action on the 2014 budget at the Dec. 10 meeting.

“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 penny-wise 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 Kane County still has money in contingency funds and should be able to cover the repair cost for the freezer.

“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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