Plans to build Beaufort County morgue, upgrade coroner's office on track

cconley@islandpacket.comAugust 29, 2012 

  • What does the Beaufort County coroner do?

    The coroner is an elected official who signs off on death certificates and works with law enforcement to gather evidence on suspicious deaths. He does not perform autopsies. Those are conducted by specially-trained doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

The Beaufort County Coroner's Office, now in a small trailer in Burton, will get a new home and its first morgue.

The county is planning a $750,000 renovation of the former Department of Disabilities and Special Needs building in Port Royal that will create a larger, permanent space for Coroner Ed Allen and his staff. The DSN moved to Beaufort in January.

The county plans to use one wing of the 6,300-square-foot office building as a morgue. The other side will become offices for the coroner and the victims' services unit of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

The new facility offers two big advantages over the current space on Shanklin Road, Allen said.

"First, larger space for our records," he said. "The other is that we will be able to have the decedent's body right on site so that (family) will have access to it."

Funding for the new space will come from a $5 million bond sale planned for later this year, said David Starkey, the county's chief financial officer. A date has not been set for the move.

Leftover money will be used to pay for part of the $13 million facade improvement under way at the County Courthouse and about $75,000 in exterior improvements planned for the county's office building in Bluffton.

The coroner's office handled 1,031 deaths last year, despite not having its own morgue. Instead, the county has arrangements with Hilton Head Hospital and Beaufort Memorial Hospital to store bodies until they are claimed by family.

Rusty Clevenger, the Spartanburg County Coroner and head of the S.C. Coroner's Association, said many counties don't operate their own morgue.

Often, he said, it comes down to whether there is a need for a dedicated county facility. For example, he said some upstate counties that use hospital morgues to store bodies have run into space issues.

The new facility's morgue will be able to hold eight bodies, according to current plans.

Allen said autopsies on suspected homicides will continue to be conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

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