Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark on Friday ordered the Pulaski County coroner to take possession of Robert George's body.
George, 72, who lived in Burnside in Pulaski County, died at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital on March 27. His body has been in the UK hospital's morgue since then, as UK officials tried to find someone to claim it.
Having no success, UK went to court to ask that either the Pulaski County coroner's office or the Fayette County coroner's office be ordered to take possession of the body for disposal. The university also asked that the appropriate county pay for the costs involved.
Clark said Friday that George had a Pulaski County address, and he was in Fayette County only as a UK hospital patient. It made sense for the county where George resided and had contacts to take possession of his remains, Clark said.
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The judge said there might come a point when family members would want to show George some honor and visit his grave.
"We hope the judge will sign the order on Monday, and then arrangements will be made for a transfer of the body," UK spokesman Jay Blanton said in an email.
"UK does not have the authority to dispose of a body," UK attorney Clifton Iler told Clark before the order was issued.
Iler said UK officials made numerous attempts to locate family members who would accept the remains. He said some family members contacted by UK were estranged from George, while others said they did not have the money to bury him.
George's wife is under the care of a custodian and unable to provide burial for her husband, Iler said. UK officials also found a son in Texas, he said.
The coroners in Pulaski and Fayette counties had refused to take the body.
Assistant Pulaski County Attorney Matthew Choate argued Friday that the Fayette County coroner should take George's body because George died in Fayette County.
Assistant Fayette County Attorney Jason Rothrock said George's death was not a coroner's case.
George died of a cerebral vascular accident, according to UK. Because his death was apparently due to natural causes, it was not a coroner's case, Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said Thursday.
"I'm thankful that Mr. George is being taken care of," Ginn said after Friday's hearing
Ginn said he thinks the case will set a precedent.
Iler said at Friday's hearing that there have been other instances in which an indigent person from another county has died at the UK hospital, and officials of the person's home county have accepted the remains.
Ginn said there were 91 indigent burials in Fayette County last year, which cost the local government about $145,000.
Ginn, who also heads UK's body bequeathal program, said UK hospital officials had pursued the idea of George's body being donated to the UK College of Medicine. But permission had to be received from his next of kin, and by the time the next of kin was found, the body wasn't in acceptable condition for donation, he said. Too much time had passed, he said.