PENSACOLA, Fla.– A former medical examiner crudely preserved human brains, hearts and lungs in soda cups and plastic food containers found inside a storage unit in Florida, authorities said Tuesday.
A man, who bought the contents of a storage unit at auction last week in Pensacola, made the gruesome discovery after being overpowered by a strange smell while sifting through furniture and boxes.
Investigators found formaldehyde, a chemical used to embalm and preserve bodies, leaking from a 32-ounce drink cup with a cracked lid that was holding a heart, said Jeff Martin, director of the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola. The unit had been rented previously by Dr. Michael Berkland.
“How horrible it is for the families of these deceased to think that someone’s loved one’s organs are basically rotting away in a storage unit somewhere, it’s horrible,” Martin told the Associated Press.
Berkland worked at the Medical Examiner’s Office from 1997 until 2003, when he was fired for not completing autopsy reports. Officials said he was also performing private autopsies in the area. It’s unclear if any of the organs were from autopsies he conducted while working at the Medical Examiner’s Office. The office is now cross-referencing names in its database during that time period, Martin said.
Officials are trying to locate family members for some of the victims, but many of the organs are not labeled, making it nearly impossible to identify them.
No charges have been filed against Berkland. His attorney, Eric Stevenson, declined to comment Tuesday. Phone calls and emails to Pensacola police were not immediately returned. Officials are trying to determine whether Berkland broke any laws regarding biomedical waste and the storing and disposing of human remains.
It was not immediately known why the organs were stored there.