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Human body organs found in Florida storage unit

By Kelli Kennedy and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 28 2012 11:48 p.m. MDT

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 bought the contents of a storage unit at auction last week in Pensacola and 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 said.

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, but it's unclear if any of the organs were from autopsies he conducted while working at the medical examiner's office. The medical examiner's office is now cross-referencing names in their database during that time period, Martin said.

Officials are also 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 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.

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