NewsCovering Colorado


State agency says it did not respond to Return to Nature funeral home concerns in 2020

Posted at 10:46 PM, Feb 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-13 08:32:49-05

PENROSE — Arrest documents for the co-owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home say the Fremont County Coroner alerted the state in 2020 about concerning conditions inside the funeral home. The documents reveal the coroner said he never received a reply.

The co-owners are now accused of improperly storing 190 bodies inside the funeral home. Investigators said some of the bodies were left to rot for years and some were found uncovered.

The Fremont County Coroner's Office told News5 Coroner Randy Keller was notified in May of 2020 by subcontractors who went inside the funeral home in Penrose. The coroner's office said employees told the coroner they saw bodies kept on the floor instead of on tables or cots and raised concerns about refrigeration inside the building.

The coroner's office said Coroner Keller sent an email to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) about the concerns. The office said he told the department if it could not inspect the funeral home, he would do an inspection himself. The coroner's office said DORA never responded.

A spokesperson for DORA told News5 they received the email from Coroner Keller in 2020. The agency said the email was sent to an employee who
never responded. The spokesperson said the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Inspections under DORA did not have the authority to inspect funeral homes at the time. The spokesperson said it wasn't until 2022 that a bill was passed granting them inspection authority.

The Fremont County Coroner's Office said the coroner would have liked to receive a reply from the department for clarity on what to do next. We called Coroner Keller directly to ask how he moved forward with the concerns and if he had the authority to inspect the funeral home at the time. He said he is under a gag order and cannot comment on the case.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the funeral home is set to be demolished the last week of February.

Jon and Carie Hallford, the co-owners of Return to Nature, will both appear back in court on March 21 for separate arraignment hearings. 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen said in a press conference last week he expects the two to plead not guilty to 260 felony counts.

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