Honolulu medical examiner forced to store human remains off site

IWILEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thursday afternoon, the morgue inside the Honolulu medical examiner's office was at full capacity, forcing the county to pay for storage elsewhere.

"We're almost always at zero spaces," said investigator, Charlotte Carter.

Currently the refrigeration unit has space for 60 individuals. Carter says they need double that.

Today the remains of five people are being kept in an off-site facility. But at times that number has been as high as 15. When the facility opened in 1987 Oahu's population was only about 700,000. Today it's almost one million.

"The population's grown. They didn't plan for the future," said Carter.

"We went from doing 650 cases a year to over 1000 cases a year," said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Happy.

Dr. Happy says issues with space are only part of the problem.

"Families who come here to identify loved ones, pick up property or conduct business with us don't want to be walking around a place that leaks," said Dr. Happy.

In almost every room there's some type of jerry rigged contraption funneling water seeping from somewhere into drains, tubs and jugs.

Water isn't the only thing coming through the holes in the roof. Rat traps are strategically placed in rooms throughout the building.

During our visit the A/C on the second floor was broken. There was also an issue with a hood that limits the exposure to dangerous fumes in the laboratory.

"It does vent. Just not incredibly well," said Carter.

A tour of the facility prompted the district's councilman to ask the city to for $5 million to begin assessing damage and possibly make repairs.

"We're just kind of putting band-aids on this. In the meantime the problems are getting worse," said Councilman Joey Manahan.

Currently the actual extent of the damage is unknown.

"Either it's going to cost a few million dollars to fix everything or it's going to cost tens of millions of dollars to fix everything. If it's going to be tens of millions of dollars we need to discuss finding a new building," said Dr. Happy.

The final vote on the $5 million appropriation will take place on June 6.

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