By Ernie Over, WyoToday
At last week’s county commission meeting in Lander, Fremont County Coroner Erin Ivie gave a guided tour of the county’s morgue. Earlier, during the commission meeting, Carbon County Coroner Tiffany Nyman shared a PowerPoint presentation of her facility in Rawlins. It’s in a 5,000 square foot remodeled building in downtown Rawlins. It looked like a typical business office with a nice entrance, art on the walls, a couple plants, offices off to each side and a sitting room with comfortable chairs and a couch. There’s also a meeting room with a large conference table and a big screen television on the wall. In the back of the office area is where the coroner’s exam room is located. There are two exam tables, two sinks, and lots of sealed floor space where evidence can be laid out and photographed. There’s also a garage entry for coroner vehicles, laundry facilities, a locker room for the coroner’s staff, a body storage room, and a viewing room with a curtain across the front. After viewing that presentation, Ivie took the commissioners downstairs to Fremont County’s morgue.
There is a dark hallway with construction debris littered about. There are old paint-encrusted jail cells on either side and down the hallway. The door to a consultation room does not have a door knob, it’s a four- to five-inch long key of the type used to open jail cells. Inside there is equipment and supplies stacked up along the wall, a desk and some chairs. This is where the Fremont County coroner’s staff meets the family of a decedent to answer questions or gather information. Just down the hall and around the corner is a viewing room with a small table set inside a curtained off area. The floor is concrete, like the hallways. There is no furniture there. The only way in is through a maintenance bay and squeezing past lawn mowers, snow removal equipment and such. It’s a tight squeeze. This is the public entrance to the morgue.
Then there is the examination room.
This is the basement of the Fremont County Courthouse, the former county jail and the current location where prisoners heading upstairs to court are housed. The exam room is the former kitchen of the jail. An exhaust hood on one side of the room is still in place, but there’s no stove or grill. There are some shelves in the room, a sink and several countertops where instruments used in autopsies are neatly spread out on cloth. There’s only enough room for one person to stand along each side of the autopsy table, which was obtained many, many decades ago by former Coroner Larry Lee from Army Surplus. There’s a hanging scale from the ceiling on one end of the table, where a water hose and a garbage disposal are located below. The entrance to the room is from the back parking lot of the courthouse and a decedent cannot be brought in to the exam room on a gurney. It can’t make the corner. There is also the former walk-in cooler where food used to be stored. It’s now set up to house two bodies.
Ivie, when addressing the tour participants, said the Lander facility is old, the equipment is outdated, there’s not enough room, it’s cold, the ventilation in the room is not good and it’s hard to hear conversation when a heater is on. There’s no X-ray equipment, either.
Despite all of that, this is where Wyoming coroners are now sending decedents for autopsies, and the Lander morgue sees several from out of the county, or more, nearly every month.
Ivie said the purpose of Nyman’s visit and PowerPoint and the tour was to show how inadequate Fremont County’s facility is. She would like to have a new facility, or a current building remodeled that would be appropriate for a modern morgue.
Commission Chairman Larry Allen and Vice-Chairman Mike Jones were on the tour. Commissioner Ron Fabrizius attended the morning session via Zoom and commissioners Jennifer McCarty and Clarence Thomas were absent. A new coroner’s facility is not in the budget, and any movement on looking at a new facility is aways down the road. But the commissioners, well, at least two of them, now know what Ivie and her staff are dealing with.