BOISE, Idaho — The former Valley County coroner is facing two misdemeanor charges because prosecutors say he used the county’s truck for personal transportation. Some officials are also raising questions about where he stored human remains when he stopped using the designated county morgue for a few months earlier this year.
The Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/2f8GNKp ) reports that Idaho law doesn’t specify how coroners may store bodies, and former coroner Nathan Hess has declined to answer questions about the matter.
Ness resigned May 18, and county commissioners named Scott Carver to the position the same day.
Hess’ arraignment is currently set for Oct. 3. He told the Idaho Statesman that he was hindered in the job by a lack of training or help from county officials.
As in other rural areas across the state, the Valley County morgue and coroner’s office is in space rented from the region’s only funeral home. Ness was an employee at Heikkila Funeral Home when he took the coroner’s post, and he hoped to buy the funeral home himself someday.
That plan came to an end when he was fired from the funeral home last November after working there for seven years. Hess, 41, says funeral home owner Marvin Heikkila fired him because Hess’ state-required mortician’s license had expired.
In Idaho, all morticians and funeral homes must be licensed annually. County coroners, though, do not have to be licensed.
Heikkila declined to be interviewed on the matter.
After he was fired, Hess said he asked the county commissioners to find a new location for the morgue, but they declined.
Scott Carver took over as the funeral home director on Dec. 1, and purchased the business Jan. 2. Carver said he immediately noticed something odd — no bodies were coming into the morgue facility.
Then he started receiving disconcerting phone calls.
“We were getting calls from families wanting to know where their loved ones were. I didn’t have any clue where the bodies were,” Carver said
Then came calls from the county sheriff’s office, from county prosecutors. And finally, a call from Idaho State Police, who told Carver they had launched an investigation.
From Dec. 1, 2016, through May 18 — the day Hess resigned as coroner and Carver was named to the position — Carver said just one body was brought to Heikkila’s morgue.
Carver contends that Hess was storing bodies in the county coroner’s pickup and transporting them to Boise during that period.
Since Carver became the county coroner, he says the morgue has received about six or seven bodies a month.
State law dictates how funeral homes can store bodies, but has no such requirements for coroners.
A person is not required to have any medical or coroner training to be appointed or to run for a coroner’s office in Idaho. A state law enacted in 2010 requires that a coroner must attend coroner’s school within one year of being appointed or elected. Additionally, each county coroner must complete 24 hours of continuing education biennially. But the law doesn’t contain any penalty for noncompliance.
“When I first moved to McCall I was asked if I would take over as coroner and I agreed, I was sworn in without any type of training, guidance or guidelines,” Hess told the Statesman.
Hess reported that he completed 26 hours of continuing education in 2015 and attended the coroners association annual meeting in 2014, according to IAC, which tracks coroner education.
The misdemeanors don’t have anything to do with the bodies. Rather, the prosecutor contends that Hess used his county vehicle, filled with county-purchased fuel, for personal use.
Hess told the Statesman that he had no choice — his own car was in the shop and he couldn’t miss an appointment to see his kids under a custody visitation agreement.
“After this instance I was told not to use the county truck for that,” he said. “I was completely unaware it was against the law and considered a misdemeanor.”
Hess also claims that he saw county employees take county vehicles for personal use.
Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com