Cleaning up death: Fight ensues over paying for dead body cleanup

Published: February 20, 2017 6:06 PM EST
Updated: February 21, 2017 12:02 PM EST

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. A homeless man dies inside a RV awaiting repair.

The owner says the mechanic should pay for clean up.

The mechanic says otherwise.

Mike Colson bought the RV from his uncle last summer and took it to Charlotte Harbor Exhaust and Auto Service for repairs. The plan was to then drive it to his home in Indianapolis.

Weeks passed after he dropped it off.

Then Colson received an interesting phone call.

It was a deputy from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

“He informed me there was a deceased body in (the RV), and so immediately I panicked and started asking questions,” Colson said. “He told me a homeless man had got in there, had too much to drink and passed away. They’re not sure how long he had been in there but he was pretty ripe.”

Colson, who was 1,000 miles away, initially thought it was a prank phone call.

“I was in shock, probably for about three or four days after the initial phone call, like can you believe this,” he said.

No trauma, empty beer can

Two tow truck drivers smelled a foul odor coming from Colson’s RV, which was parked in front of the mechanic’s building, according to an incident report.

The passenger front door was closed, but unlocked. Inside they found the dead man in the back of the camper.

“(His) face was fully decomposed, the body was bloated, black colored and fully covered with flies and maggots,” the report said. “There appeared to be no signs of trauma to the body.”

The report further detailed the gruesome discovery.

“I observed no trauma to the body and it did not appear to be any type of struggle,” it said. “The bed was still made and orderly as if someone just lied down on the bed. An empty can of Natural Beer was on a side table, the beer was empty.”

The man died of natural causes, according to a medical examiner’s report.

Rejected offers

Colson said Tim Hertenlehner, the owner of Charlotte Harbor Exhaust, filed a claim with his insurance company, Granada Insurance.

The claim was denied.

Hertenlehner’s policy did not cover a ‘loss’ in this situation, said Ron Kammer, an attorney for Granada Insurance and partner at Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP. The policy only covered losses caused by fire (lightning or explosion), theft or mischief/vandalism, he said.

“At that point I called Tim and I said ‘look the insurance company is not going to do anything and that’s when I asked him, I said at the end of the day I’m out about $6,000 on this RV because it’s useless now,'” Colson said. “Nobody would ever want to stay in it. I asked him if he could at least compensate me something, because I put six new tires on it, actually. If he could take the tires off and resell them or whatever he needed to do. If he could just give me a couple hundred dollars to take some of the sting off. That’s all I wanted was maybe to pay for it to get professionally cleaned or just anything at that point, I guess I was just reaching out for anything at that point because it was such a big loss.”

Hertenlehner rejected his offer, Colson said.

Hertenlehner declined to comment for this story, referring inquiries to his insurance company.

Risks of cleaning up death

Brian Moister is used to cleaning up death.

Moister, who owns BioRid Services, evaluated the RV, which sits at the home of Colson’s uncle.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff but every time I think I’ve seen it all, a new situation pops up like this,” he said. “Murders, suicides, hangings, decompositions, pretty much everything that you guys report on the news. I walk into it afterwards when the cops are gone and make it all go away.”

WINK News asked Moister to examine the vehicle.

The vehicle was a total loss, he said, adding it would cost $2,000 to properly dispose of it.

“All of the interior needs to be stripped out and disposed of as biomedical waste..everything needs to be sprayed down and disinfected,” he explained. “Nobody should go in there themselves for the simple fact, he didn’t know the deceased so he doesn’t know the medical history…If you dispose of the stuff as regular trash or bring it somewhere without labeling it properly, not only do you put yourself at risk but you put everybody in the path, everybody is kind of at risk.”