PENSACOLA, Fla. -- A former associate medical examiner is facing possible criminal charges after body parts and remains belonging to more than 100 individuals were discovered in an abandoned storage unit.
The remains, including hearts, lungs, tissue samples and 10 brains, were found Friday in containers in a unit that had been rented by Dr. Michael Berkland at Uncle Bob's Storage, officials said.
Medical Examiner Dr. Andi Minyard said the remains appear to be from private autopsies Berkland performed at local funeral homes in Pensacola and in Panama City between 1997 and 2007.
The remains were found after the storage unit was sold during an auction. The buyer alerted a manager at Uncle Bob's to the unit's content, and police were called, Minyard said.
Although Florida allows private autopsies, the state tries to regulate improper storage of biomedical waste, Minyard said.
"Out of respect for the families, as well, it's a horrible thing to know that your uncle's brain is sitting in some storage shed that got sold at an auction," she said.
Berkland could not be reached Monday for comment. Uncle Bob's Storage would not comment.
Berkland worked for the Medical Examiner's Office between 1997 to 2003. He was fired in May 2003 for keeping a large backlog of cases and failing to complete autopsy reports in a timely manner.
Minyard said she is "very concerned" that some of the remains could be from cases when Berkland worked at the Medical Examiner's Office. But she said that may not be the case because the numbering system on Berkland's labels is not the same as the one used by the Medical Examiner's Office.
Minyard's office, which now has the remains, is trying to figure out to whom the remains belong and is notifying family members. She said most of the remains are labeled with a name and date of autopsy.
"The unfortunate thing is several of the tissue buckets and several of the brains don't have any labels on them at all, so we have no idea who they would have belonged to," Minyard said.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said his office will work with police during the investigation and will also contact the Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency to see if any regulations have been violated.
"As soon as this storm situation is cleared out, we are going to sit down and go through this and determine what should be done next," Marcille said.
By THYRIE BLAND
Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal