GREENFIELD — Newly elected coroner Crystel Myers has taken the first steps to bringing autopsies back to Hancock County.
Where autopsies would be conducted, which is left to the discretion of the coroner, was a topic of debate during the November election. Myers, who took office Jan. 1, promised constituents she would keep their loved ones nearby by having the majority of autopsies conducted at a local funeral home.
She is now working to make good on that promise.
Myers said she has had informal discussions with Dane Erlewein of Erlewein Mortuary about restarting a service he offered under former coroner Tamara Vangundy.
Erlewein allowed the county to rent his facility, which includes an autopsy room and refrigeration unit for storing bodies, for $125 per autopsy.
The coroner was then responsible for contracting a pathologist.
Myers said the issue is a personal one, and she feels a local option would be more comforting to grieving families.
“It’s important to me to have family close to home,” she said. “Personally, I feel like you know the people in your community.”
While the details have not yet been finalized, Erlewein said he is on board. The county performed between 10 and 15 autopsies there with the deal under Vangundy, he said.
Erlewein said he considered the arrangement a way to give back to the community.
“When Tammy was the coroner, it seemed to work out well,” he said. “We just basically try to keep it a minimum charge to cover some overhead expenses. It’s definitely not a situation where we were trying to make it a revenue situation.”
Former interim coroner Dan Devoy, who took over last fall after Vangundy left office, criticized Vangundy’s decision to have autopsies conducted locally and moved them to the Marion County coroner’s office, where they had been conducted for years before Vangundy was elected.
Devoy expressed concerns about security at funeral homes when explaining that decision.
Erlewein said a variety of security measures were added during an expansion of the building about eight years ago, and the community should have full confidence in the facility.
The building has a security system that would alert police if someone broke in after hours, and the interior door to the area where bodies are stored is locked, Erlewein said. The door is accessible by key or entering a code into the key pad.
“Unless you have the code, there’s no way you can get into those areas,” he said. “It is a public building, and there are people in here, but unless you’re a staff member you don’t have that code to get in there.”
Erlewein said such security measures are common practice in today’s funeral homes in order to protect families’ privacy and keep anyone from accidentally wandering into an area where bodies are stored.
Myers said there will be some exceptions, including any homicide cases or other deaths that require law enforcement involvement.
The Marion County coroner’s office would be used in those instances, she said.
“I’m not saying they’re better than we could handle it, by any means, but there’s more space,” she said. “Because of course, you have to have an evidence tech, and you have different detectives and investigators … that are going to be there, that need to be there.”