Delivering his annual update to the Prowers County Commisioners, Joe Giadone, Prowers County Coroner, detailed the increased numbers of cases that were handled in 2016 by his department. “We were very busy compared to other years, with 110 coroner calls which translated into 1,105 miles driven. In the past 18 months, we have had five drug overdoses, three suicides, three auto fatalities and one homicide, plus 11 autopsies.”
He provided some grim statistics regarding how some local deaths are related to illegal drug use. “Prowers County is ranked 3rd in Colorado, based on population percentages, for suicides and drug overdoses and this is a terrible situation given the amount of drugs in the state.” Although there have been no cases of deaths related to fentanyl opioid use in the county, Giadone said this was a growing concern because of the strength of the manufactured drug, especially when combined with heroin. “Coroners are taking classes on how to deal with the drug in the event of an overdose death. There could be a need to wear a mask and gloves because of fumes or making contact with the drug.” When asked about cleaning such a hazardous site, Giadone explained, “There are professional companies that do this type of work, usually out of Denver. We’ve used them in the past, but so far, not for a drug related incident.” He said there is no real pattern for an age group for local suicides associated with drug use, “They run from young to old.” He mentioned that it is a growing concern statewide, “There were 12 suicides in Arapahoe County over one weekend, alone.”
The commissioners discussed some legal ramifications as it might apply to a home owner who rents a property that becomes a base for illegal drug manufacturing. If a house becomes contaminated, as was a case in Lamar the city dealt with, Giadone mentioned, “There were legal issues on who was responsible for the cost of clean-up as meth was manufactured there.”
Giadone said the identity of the middle aged man discovered east of Lamar still has not been identified following the discovery of the body in 2015. “He is still in the system and despite a national search, there have been no hits on his identify,” he explained. The coroner answered commissioner Buxton-Andrade’s question on the remains, “The body was cremated and the ashes are being kept at the funeral home until any next of kin has been identified and steps forward.” He explained that there probably will not be a burial before that happens. “What would we do if there is a burial and then five years later, someone appears to claim the remains?”
As a practice, Giadone explained, ashes can be kept at a funeral home at the request of a surviving spouse. The cremated remains can be held for years in accordance with those wishes until the other spouse passes away and then as a rule, the ashes are interred with the spouse who just died. Giadone said his annual budget has been stretched due to the increased number of autopsies that have been performed, now that the local number has increased and the cost has also risen to $1,400 per request. Those are conducted out of the county and local funeral homes bill the county for transportation costs with each home designated on-call for alternating months.
By Russ Baldwin
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