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Human body parts found in Florida storage unit


(CBS/AP) Pensacola, Fla. - Human brains, hearts and lungs crudely preserved in soda cups and plastic food containers were found inside a storage unit in Florida, authorities said Tuesday. The unit allegedly belonged to former medical examiner Dr. Michael Berkland before it was auctioned last week, and now officials are trying to locate the family members of some of the victims, CBS Miami reports.

The person who bought the storage unit began to notice a foul smell as they were unpacking furniture and boxes.

According to the officials at the medical examiner's office in Pensacola, the remains of more than 100 people were found stored in Tupperware containers, garbage bags, and drink cups. Many of the organs were not labeled making it difficult for officials to identify them.

Formaldehyde, a chemical used to embalm and preserve bodies, was found leaking from a 32-ounce drink cup that was holding a human heart, according to Jeff Martin, the director of the District 1 Medical Examiner's office in Pensacola.

"How horrible it is for the families of these decreased 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.

Meanwhile, no charges have been filed against Berkland and his attorney, Eric Stevenson, declined to comment on Tuesday. Berkland worked at the medical examiner's office from 1997 to 2003 before being fired for not completing autopsy reports. Officials say that he was also conducting private autopsies in the area after being fired.

Berkland told employees of the Florida storage facility that he planned to keep household goods and office furniture there, the company said.

"We never had any indication that anything was out of the ordinary, nor did anyone on our management team ever notice anything amiss during daily property checks," said Diane Piegza, vice president of corporate communications of Uncle Bob's Self Storage.

This is not Berkland's first incident involving the misplacement of human organs. Before coming to Florida, he was fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Mo., over a dispute regarding his caseload and autopsy reports. Berkland had incorrectly stated on reports that he had taken sections of several brains to be preserved as specimens for medical conferences and teaching purposes. He called them, "proofreading errors."

At the time, Berkland contended that the actions against him were unfair because he had no evidence to present in his defense.

In the meantime, it is not immediately known why the organs were being stored at Uncle Bob's Self Storage facility. Officials are now trying to determine whether or not Berkland actually broke any laws in Florida with regards to the storing and disposing of human remains.  

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