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Coroner moves into new office at York County Prison

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

After more than a year of planning, several months of construction and an unexpected delay because of COVID-19, the York County Coroner's Office officially moved into its new office space last week at York County Prison.

The office space was formerly a vacant dormitory the prison had used to house detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We feel much more secure here than we did at our past location," said York County Coroner Pam Gay about the former office at the Pleasant Acres Annex.

The old office hadn't been updated in decades, Gay said, and there just wasn't much room to accommodate the department's needs.

Family members who arrived at the office to identify their loved one or pick up personal items had to wait in a conference room that doubled as a storage area, Gay said, and there wasn't much privacy.

Now, there's a small sitting area for friends and family who need to visit the office, and there are plans in the works for an expanded family room, where friends and family can gather in private, view their loved one through a window and have a safe space to process their grief.

The room will be sponsored by the family of Jacob Linn, a York County teen who died in a car crash in 2015, Gay said.

York County Coroner Pam Gay talks about a planned morgue in a former ICE detention dormitory at the relocated coroner's office at the York County Prison Complex Wednesday, July 15, 2020. The morgue is slated for completion in mid-2121. Bill Kalina photo

Renovating the dormitory into the coroner's office cost about $682,000, said York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler.

"I think the long-term vision that the coroner has is spot-on for our community," Wheeler said. "The fact that we're going to have a room that will allow, you know, family and friends to come and start their grieving and healing process, and do it in a safe and comfortable space, is a great thing for our community."

In addition to the sitting area, the new office also has a dedicated room to store personal effects and other items found in the investigation of a death, some of which will end up as evidence in criminal investigations.

More:Coroner: Woman dies three weeks after single-vehicle crash in Dover Twp.

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The break room is decorated with ceramic roosters and gingham tablecloths, as well as  an embroidered tea towel that reads, "The Rules of the Roost."

There's also a shower, something Gay said was sorely needed at the former office.

When Gay and her staff respond to a scene with a body that's already begun decomposing, she said things can get messy, and their clothes are often contaminated.

She said that when they'd arrive home from work, she and the deputies would often have to undress in their garages and change into new clothes before walking inside.

Now, there's a shower at the office, and employees can keep a change of clothes in their lockers.

"We make use of every space here," Gay said. "It's much more efficient and cost effective than in some other (coroner's offices)."

Julie Wheeler, a businesswoman and Republican committeewoman from Windsor Township, is running for the York County Board of Commissioners.

The next phase of the renovations will be to build a morgue in the space next to the office, something else Gay has been sounding alarm bells about for years.

The county shares a morgue with WellSpan at York Hospital, and it's not uncommon for the morgue to reach capacity, forcing Gay and her staff to find funeral homes to take decedent's bodies and to rush families into making a decision about arrangements.

The new morgue will have capacity to hold up to 30 bodies collected near the time of death and up to three bodies that are in advanced stages of decomposition, Gay said.

The county expects to receive bids from contractors for the morgue renovations by Wednesday, July 22, Wheeler said. 

Gay said she hopes the morgue will be ready in early to mid-2021.

More:Coroner: Woman found dead at Pinchot Park victim of homicide

More:York County considers $2.2M plan to build new morgue at prison