BOONVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – A mobile morgue is headed to Warrick County. The Warrick County Council voted 4-3 in August to approve the $42,500 morgue with CARES Act funding.
Warrick County Coroner Sarah Seaton said she requested a spot on the county council agenda in August to fix up a two person cooler donated to the Coroner’s office that had never been utilized.
Instead, Seaton said she was surprised to learn that Emergency Management officials requested a spot on the council’s August agenda to review the new mobile morgue.
“The council asked me that evening if I thought that was something the coroner’s office needed and I said I don’t ever anticipate a time when we ever need that much storage for the county,” Coroner Seaton said. “The most I ever need at a time is maybe two, typically only one at a time until we make funeral arrangements or reach out of town family.”
Currently Warrick County doesn’t have a morgue, instead anytime someone passes away they have to be taken to Vanderburgh County’s morgue at a nominal cost of $100 per person. Emergency management officials say this was a proactive decision.
“According to the CDC – pandemics are not going away anytime soon, so two years from now we could have another one and need it, there could be a plane crash, a shooting god forbid, any event like that (and) this mobile morgue would be capable of handling it,” said Warrick County Emergency Management Director Dave Woolen. “We need to plan for something like that to happen and be prepared for it.”
Warrick County Councilwoman Cindy Ledbetter was one of three councilors who voted against the measure and she says there’s concern over how the rest of the county’s CARES Act funding will be spent.
“In a sense, I understand why the EMA wanted the morgue because they have a population of 12 counties they want to serve,” Ledbetter said. “I don’t understand why Warrick County had to be the one to pay for it. The other part of that is you keep hearing this is federal money not county money but federal money is taxpayer money.”
The 12 southwestern Indiana counties part of district 10 will also be allowed to use the mobile morgue. Funeral homes in and across Warrick County have morgues, but they are no longer available – especially amid the pandemic.
“This 20 body cooler that is just way more than the county needs,” Coroner Seaton said. “I don’t want the public to think that we anticipate this doom and gloom coming on in the next couple months that we think this 20 body cooler will be necessary because of COVID.”
Seaton said it’s unclear if her workload will increase once the new mobile morgue arrives.
“I do know that counties that enter into these arrangements often get saddled with the responsibility of what to do with that individual if no one claims them,” Coroner Seaton said. “So potentially we could have someone in our county who wasn’t a resident here for an extended period of time.”
Warrick County Council President Greg Richmond said he doesn’t want the county to have a repeat scenario of the 2005 tornado that devastated Evansville and much of Warrick County. The tornado killed 25 people.
Richmond said he remembers bodies being in a local hospital’s cafeteria and conference room because there was nowhere else for them to go.
“So we need to be prepared for a disaster,” Richmond said. “This was paid for by CARES Act funding as a regional morgue and we need to be prepared for a disaster somewhere in Southwest Indiana. The bottom line is we are given a chance to be proactive instead of reactive.”
(This story was originally published on October 28, 2020)