Did Henry Storms die the victim of homicide?
Salt Lake police will never know for sure.His body was cremated before the state medical examiner could perform an autopsy.
Police detectives and a state medical examiner investigator are angry about the situation, and the medical examiner's office will inquire as to why the office was not notified of Storms' death.
Storms - a 59-year-old transient whose family has never been located - was taken to LDS Hospital on Sept. 2 after being found unconscious in the city's "hobo jungle," a section of the Jordan River near North Temple. Police believed he had been beaten severely about the head.
On a regular basis, homicide detective John Johnson called the hospital for updates on Storms' condition. However, in early October, the hospital refused to release any more information about Storms, Johnson said.
Storms died Oct. 18 in Rosewood Terrace Nursing Home, 158 N. Sixth West, and his body was cremated a short time later at a mortuary, with the approval of the Salt Lake County attorney's office.
Johnson didn't learn about any of that until this week, after he had "gone above some heads."
"It's down the drain as far as an investigation is concerned," he said. "We were investigating it as an aggravated assault. Now, we don't know what to classify it as."
If someone comes forward with information about a suspect or if someone confesses to the beating, police will be hard-pressed to charge the person criminally, Johnson said. Without an autopsy, it's hard to prove in court that a person had been beaten.
Investigators are angry for three reasons: LDS Hospital did not tell the police that Storms had been released to a nursing home; the hospital apparently did not advise the nursing home that Storms was a possible victim of an assault; and the doctor who signed the death certificate at the nursing home failed to notify the medical examiner.
But LDS Hospital spokesman Tim Madden said he has no record that the police contacted the hospital when Storms was transferred to the nursing home and that it isn't the hospital's policy to notify police departments of such transfers.
"It's up to the police to maintain interest in a case," Madden said.
Johnson said that kind of an attitude has put LDS Hospital in an unfavorable light among several homicide detectives. "We don't get good cooperation from LDS. They, for some reason, don't think they have to talk to us. This isn't the first time we've had trouble with them."
Madden said it's the hospital's policy to cooperate fully with police but that cooperation will not always be extended over the phone, for security reasons.
Storms was transferred to the nursing home on Sept. 30, Madden said. Because of confidentiality restrictions, the spokesman would not say why Storms was sent to the nursing home.
But did the hospital notify the nursing home that Storms was the subject of a police investigation?
"I don't know. I can't find anything in the medical records that indicates that information was relayed to them," said Madden. "But then again, that gets into the area of confidentiality."
The spokesman said only vital information relating to the patient's condition _ not the entire medical record _ is released to the next medical care provider.
Whether the nursing home knew that Storms was a possible assault victim may be immaterial, said Rudi Riet, a medical examiner's office investigator.
"The doctor wrote on the death certificate that the cause of death was `pneumonia due to subdural hematoma.' Subdural hematoma should send up a red flag that the (patient) had suffered a blow to the head. We are supposed to get those kinds of cases," Riet said.
Subdural hematoma is a swelling that occurs beneath the membranes covering the brain.
Riet said he's disturbed that his office was not notified by the doctor who signed Storms' death certificate, which led to Deseret Mortuary's arranging for the cremation.
"We can't do anything now. It's hard for us to examine ashes," Riet said.
Under state law, the medical examiner's office must be notified of deaths that appear to be caused by violence or that occur under suspicious circumstances.
Deseret Mortuary director Eric MacKay said, "All I can tell you is what we did was according to the laws. We had all the necessary permits and authorizations."
The Salt Lake County attorney's office signed for the mortuary an "authorization to cremate" on Oct. 18. Linda Gasaparac, director of indigent burial, said she had no reason to suspect Storms' death was anything but natural. "This case wasn't out of order. It was just a regular pneumonia."
Gasaparac said if there's any question as to the circumstances of an indigent person's death, her office will not authorize cremation. "We'll have him buried in case the body needs to be exhumed later."
Riet said the medical examiner's office will investigate the Storms case.
The doctor who signed Storms' death certificate did not return the Deseret News' phone calls by press time.
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