CUYAHOGA COUNTY — Coroners across Ohio, including Cuyahoga County, are being challenged to deal with a rising number of unclaimed bodies.
It's causing a storage problem at the county morgue, but it's also creating a burden on taxpayers who are required by law to cover the cost of the burials.
"I think in the last 4 to 5 years, it's drastically increased. We need more space," said Joe Stopik with the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiners Office.
Records show unclaimed bodies range in age from newborns to 95. Most are white males, in their 50's and who've never married.
In Cuyahoga County, the medical examiner has seen about a 30 percent increase in the number of unclaimed bodies in the past year.
One of the individuals whose body went unclaimed is that of Jordan Rodriguez. His mother Larissa, and her boyfriend, Christopher Rodriguez received stiff prison sentences after the 5-year-old's badly-abused body was found buried in the backyard of the mother's home.
In many cases, coroners say bodies go unclaimed because family members are either unwilling or unable to shoulder the expense of a funeral. And then, there are those who have died alone.
"Some of them have no family or friends," said Dr. Tom Gilson, medical examiner for Cuyahoga County.
The increased volume of unclaimed bodies can also be traced to the opioid epidemic. When bodies go unclaimed, taxpayers must cover the cost of the cremation---about $700 on average. By law, it's the city where the deceased last lived that's forced to pay the bill.
The city of Cleveland budgets $93,000 a year and contracts with a local funeral home to handle arrangements. If the remains aren't claimed, they're often buried in a potter's field in Highland Hills.
"We will make a genuine, concerted effort before we give up and say 'we just can't find any family'," Gilson said.
Coroners in larger metropolitan areas in Ohio report similar issues.
The state coroner's association cites estranged families as the primary reason that bodies go unclaimed.