EL PASO COUNTY – The goal of newly-elected coroner Dr. Leon Kelly is to increase transparency.
He hopes it’ll improve the process to deal with remains that have nowhere to go.
Kelly and his team work around the clock identify human remains and find possible family members.
“One of our main roles is notifying next of kin is because morally, that’s what you wanna do, you wanna get to that person as fast as possible,” he said.
But it doesn’t always work out that way.
“In some cases, we can’t find anyone, in some cases, we find out pretty quickly there are no living relatives,” Kelly noted.
“In other cases, we find [the] family but that family has no interest in taking possession of the remains.”
That’s when El Paso County’s Public Administrator Catherine Seal steps in.
Seal confirmed the bodies are usually cremated and those remains are usually held onto for a period of a year or more before they are interred.
“Ultimately, you don’t want remains staying here,” Kelly emphasized.
“Without the public administrator, we would have many, many bodies sort of piling up in the back that had no place to go.”
On Thursday, El Paso County Commissioners renewed the contract with the public administrator and coroner.
“This contract helps establish the process and the timeline and identifies the people that are responsible for dealing with remains of somebody that has passed on,” explained Ryan Parsell, a spokesperson for El Paso County.
Kelly added a new measure requiring the public administrator to share updates after the case is handed off, like whether families ended up coming forward.
He says before, this information wasn’t usually communicated and there isn’t a good idea of how many cases they’re dealing with.
“And that allows us to see, is this number going up, is this number going down, is it staying steady?” he said.
Kelly says a majority of these cases end up belonging to the homeless population and he believes tracking and identifying trends can lead to more solutions.
This contract is renewed yearly.
Each year, El Paso County Coroner’s Office hands off between 20 to 30 unclaimed remains to the Public Administrator.