WAILUKU - The temperature in the walk-in refrigerator at the Maui Police Department's new morgue and forensic facility is maintained between 36 and 38 degrees. Inside, there are racks of steel slabs.
The narrow temperature range will prevent the corpses from decomposing while keeping them above freezing, said Assistant Police Chief Lawrence Hudson.
A post-mortem can't be done on a frozen body, he said Friday while giving a short tour of the new building at 1831 Wili Pa Loop in the Millyard. The $4.5 million facility recently received its occupancy permit and is set to be fully operational before the end of the year.
Assistant Police Chief Lawrence Hudson shows a rack of steel slabs Friday at the Maui Police Department’s new morgue and forensic facility at the Millyard in Wailuku. The temperature inside the walk-in refrigerator is kept between 36 to 38 degrees to maintain bodies awaiting autopsies. The refrigerator can hold 50 bodies, while a nearby separate refrigerator can keep 20.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
The morgue has the capacity to hold 70 bodies - 50 in one walk-in refrigerator and 20 in another. That will be 66 more than the capacity of the morgue at Maui Memorial Medical Center, which police have been using for years. If a disaster were to strike and more space were needed for bodies, a refrigerated Matson container could be brought onto the property's parking lot, he said.
Hudson said that, as far as he knows, the Maui Police Department is the only department in the country to operate a morgue. Other jurisdictions use hospital facilities as Maui police have done, while metro-sized departments have medical examiner offices, he said.
Hudson has overseen the five-year project to develop the morgue, and he said the department has been driven by the desire to see the deceased and their families treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
"Deceased victims of crime have no voice, except the evidence they carry with them," he said. "It is imperative that the evidence be protected and collected in a sanitized environment, something the new facility is fully capable of providing. The remains of our loved ones should be handled with the utmost respect and dignity."
Maui County conducts 180 to 220 autopsies per year, each costing between $500 and $1,800 depending on the complexity of the case and whether further testing (such as for the presence of drugs or alcohol) Morgue is done, Hudson said.
Post-mortems are conducted for the Maui Police Department by Pan Pacific Pathologists, he said. Physicians come from Oahu to do the procedures, which are paid for out of the department's operating budget.
Autopsies are not done following all deaths, Hudson said. For example, one probably would not be done in the case of a terminally ill patient under hospice and a physician's care. However, autopsies are done in accident, suicide and homicide cases; when people die who had been in good health; or when deceased people have been hospitalized less than 24 hours.
The facility also will house the police department's evidence-processing area and crime lab. It includes classroom space for police recruits and officers, and stores all crime scene investigation equipment.
The morgue also has an area for family members to identify a deceased relative behind a glass partition. Hudson said police discussed whether to allow family members physical contact with a loved one, but they decided to keep them apart to preserve evidence.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.