At the request of Coroner Timothy Warco, Washington County Commissioners have entered into an agreement with a database provider to help track down next-of-kin to people who have died.
Under the agreement, Trans Union Risk and Alternative Data Solutions Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., will allow the coroner’s office to have access to its informational database at a cost of $75 per month from Dec. 1 through Nov. 30, 2021.
By law, the coroner is responsible for notifying family members of a death. The county takes responsibility if a family cannot be contacted or declines to claim the body.
“So far in 2019, we have 15 cases which were initially unclaimed. Of those, to date, nine remain unclaimed and became county cremations or inurnments,” wrote Matt Yancosek, chief deputy coroner in an email response to a request for information.
“That leaves six successfully resolved cases where family has chosen funeral homes.”
Yancosek said family members could not be located in the other nine deaths.
“There are many cases where we identify and notify family members and they still choose to do nothing either due to poor relationships or financial constraints, or a mixture of both,” Yancosek wrote.
“Additionally, there are a number of cases each month where identifying family is challenging. People don’t always die at home with friends and family. Highway accidents and deaths in hospitals or other public places top that list.”
The coroner’s office considers notification of next-of-kin “one of the most important things we do and we do our best to do it as quickly as possible, in person, unless that is absolutely impossible,” Yancosek wrote.
Husbands, wives, adult children or parents are those the coroner tries to contact whenever possible. If these relatives are unavailable, the next priority would be cousins, friends, aunts and uncles.
He also noted the number of natural gas and oil industry workers staying at hotels in the region, and hotel desk clerk don’t routinely ask for emergency contact information.
An individual’s employer, however, can typically help with those cases.
Even a death that occurs in a hospital can lack emergency contact information, particularly if no one accompanies a patient who arrives at the emergency room and the patient is unable to speak or communicate with hospital staff prior to death.
Emergency contact information in wallets, phones or vehicles can be helpful, but contacts in a phone can’t necessarily be accessed.
Hospital social services departments can be of help, or the coroner’s office will make calls to the district attorney’s office, adult probation department or county jail.
“In some cases, police departments have arrest records, but those leads don’t always pan out and often that information is several years old,” Yancosek wrote.
After exhausting these sources, the coroner’s office runs a notice in the Observer-Reporter, which is limited to those who are reading the newspaper or are specifically searching for a decedent by name.
“And of course, we have those cases where someone has simply outlived the remainder of his or her family,” Yancosek wrote.
The database, he said, “will give us a number of additional resources and insights to ensure that we do everything we can to locate the appropriate family member and make contact with them.”
The county has a total of 76 cremated remains dating back to 1979, plus the nine from this year.
The 40 from 2016-19 shows the trend. In 85 county cremations over 40 years, 40 came over the past four years.
In April 2017, Warco also came to the commissioners for help in solving a similar problem when it had become more common in Washington County that no one was stepping forward to bury a friend or relative. Two years ago, he sought a time limit of not more than 15 days to cremate a body.
Coroner’s Solicitor Stephen Toprani said at the time Warco told him in his first year or two as coroner in the 1980s, there may have been one unclaimed body, but the number has been increasing.
Statutes actually use the term “interment,” not cremation, in dealing with unclaimed bodies. In the case of an unclaimed body because of homicide, burial rather than cremation would be part of the protocol because of a possible exhumation.
The county code allows $300 per cremation.
Robinson officials granted local approval on Monday for a company’s plans for the Beech Hollow power plant, as two of the township’s three supervisors publicly declared their conflicts of interest in relation to the project.
In their 2-0 vote – from which Chairman Rodger Kendall abstained – supervisors Mary Donaldson and David Foley approved Robinson Power Co.’s land development plans related to a natural gas-fired plant the firm proposed building on 59 acres between Route 980 and Candor Road. The approval is pending an ongoing bid by the company for the state Department of Environmental Protection to grant permission to modify its plans for the plant.
Before they voted, township solicitor Alan Shukrow acknowledged Kendall and Foley had conflicts that would normally preclude both of them from voting on the project under state law.
“But that’s going to put us in a position where we only have one person that’s able to vote, and based on the Ethics Act, we have to be able to take action,” Shuckrow said.
So, similarly to a preliminary vote taken in September, Foley participated in the final decision based on Shuckrow’s input.
Kendall said he has right-of-way easements with Robinson Power to cross his land with a gas pipeline. Foley said his father and brother have similar agreements with the company.
Robinson Power and Champion Processing Inc., which would own the site of the power plant, are family companies run by businessman Raymond Bologna, who’s floated several proposals over the years for a power plant there.
The future of the project is still contingent on the DEP’s decision on the company’s state permit for the plant. DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley previously said even though it’s a “major modification” to the plans, “this review must undergo the same regulatory scrutiny as a new plan approval application.”
Vernon Wranosky, a project manager from the Kansas City, Mo., engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, said during a township meeting last month that the main entrance to the facility, known as the Beech Hollow plant, will be from Route 980, with a secondary one off Champion Way, formerly known as Beech Hollow Road.
On Dec. 14 at noon, several local organizations will participate in the Wreaths Across America campaign.
They include the George Washington Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, along with the Greene County Composite Squadron 606, Boy Scout Troop 1280 and Troop 9280 of Waynesburg, Carmichaels Women’s Civic Club, American Legion Post 400 and the Carmichaels Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3491.
The ceremony will be held simultaneously across the country at more than 1,400 locations.
The organizations are seeking sponsors to purchase live wreaths to be placed at local national cemeteries during the ceremony.
The George Washington chapter will place the balsam fir wreaths in National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, Cecil Township.
In Greene County, the Greene County Composite Squadron 606 and the Scout troops will provide wreaths for the approximately 500 veterans laid to rest at Green Mount Cemetery, Waynesburg, and Rosemont Cemetery, Rogersville. The ceremony will be held at the Waynesburg VFW Post 4793.
The Carmichaels Civic Club, along with the American Legion and VFW Post 3491, will place wreaths on 342 veterans’ graves at the Laurel Point Cemetery.
Wreaths Across America remembers the fallen, honors those who serve and teaches children the value of freedom.
The goal is to generate sponsors for wreaths that will be placed on veterans’ graves in each of over 1,600 national cemeteries and locations in the country and overseas.
Each wreath sponsorship costs $15 and is tax deductible. For every two wreaths sponsored, a third is provided free by the national organization.
The George Washington Chapter is the largest gatherer of sponsorships for the Cecil cemetery.
The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies was established in 2008 on approximately 300 acres. About 16,000 people have been interred since the cemetery opened.
At the Dec. 14 event, family, friends, veterans, youths and organizations will gather for a brief ceremony followed by the placing of the wreaths.
Last year 12,000 wreaths were placed at the Cemetery of the Alleghenies.
Volunteers are encouraged to come to the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies to help place wreaths.
The deadline to purchase wreaths is Nov. 27 for the Sons of the American Revolution. Anyone interested in sponsoring a wreath for Cemetery of the Alleghenies can make a check payable to Wreaths Across America and send it to Gary W. Timmons, 13 Elm Lane, Wheeling, WV 26003-4905. He also can be contacted at 304-242-8759.
For the Greene County cemeteries, order forms can be picked up at the Waynesburg VFW Post 4739. Or contact a member of the Greene Composite Squadron 606 or the Waynesburg Boy Scouts or visit the website at http://www.squadron606.us/index.php/squadron/wreaths-across-america/.
For the Carmichaels Women’s Club, checks can be made payable to Wreaths Across America and sent to the Carmichaels Women’s Civic Club, P.O. Box 453, Carmichaels, PA 15230. For more information, call 724-966-2486.