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Refrigerator Breaks Down At State Medical Examiner's Office In OKC

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The State Medical Examiner's Office had to move several bodies when the cooler broke down. The State Medical Examiner's Office had to move several bodies when the cooler broke down.

The State Medical Examiner's Office in Oklahoma City had to quickly enact a contingency plan to preserve more than two dozen bodies when its refrigeration system malfunctioned Wednesday.

When workers arrived at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, they realized the cooler wasn't working. 

There were 28 bodies that had to be preserved. If the temperature of the bodies rose above 43 degrees for too long, they would begin decomposing. The ME office's Chief Administrative Officer Amy Elliot said workers immediately jumped into action.

"We are implementing our contingency plan to make sure the bodies do not lose their temperature, which they must remain."

There was no space in the unclaimed body cooler, so the office cleaned out a garage, and the Oklahoma Department of Health brought in a refrigerated truck to keep 16 of the bodies cold.

The remaining bodies were taken to the Alpha Omega Funeral Home for storage. Area funeral homes transported the bodies.

4/24/2012 Related Story: Lack Of Staff, Space Creates Problems At Oklahoma ME's Office

The contingency plan is one the office had already developed, fearing this may happen someday. The cooler has been in the building since 1970.

"It's very old and outdated," said Elliott. "We have continued to patch it and repair it and fix it; and as it stands right now I'm not sure when we will get the part in for that cooler. It's old enough that the part may not be easily accessible."

Elliot said the refrigerator's breakdown is proof the agency is in desperate need of a new facility.

"It's past time that we have a new building and we don't have to rely on funeral homes and Alpha Omega to help us out."

The ME's office is supposed to move to a new facility on the University of Central Oklahoma's campus in Edmond. The state legislature, however, has not approved the funding for the facility. Lawmakers have until the end of the week to get that done.

5/16/2012 Related Story: State Lawmaker Blasts Condition Of Medical Examiner's Office

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