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Civil suit filed against former Morgan County coroner, citing abuse of a corpse


A family in eastern Kentucky has filed a civil complaint against the now-former Morgan County Coroner for alleged abuse of a corpse in an incident that occurred late last year.

In the complaint, the family of the late Nathan Peyton claimed former Morgan County Coroner Raymond Vancleave left Peyton’s body in the coroner’s vehicle overnight before transporting it to the state medical examiner’s office in Frankfort the following day. The family said an autopsy was never requested, making the trip to Frankfort unnecessary.

Donald McFarland represents Basill Ray Peyton, the brother of the deceased and administer of his estate. He said the former coroner’s actions resulted in rapid decomposition of the deceased’s body, which in turn made a normal funeral service impossible.

“The smell in the chapel caused numerous well-wishers and family members and pall bearers to be extremely ill,” McFarland said. “To the point of several of them vomiting.”

The family also alleged in the suit that Vancleave no longer had access to proper body storage facilities due to an inability to retrieve bodies in a timely manner.

“His privileges, to our understanding, had been suspended,” McFarland said. “So, instead of being able to take Mr. Peyton’s body to an appropriate cooling facility such as that of ARH Hospital, he just parked him in his backyard and left him there during the day and overnight in that black body bag in a hot vehicle.”

The suit also names several other current and former Morgan County officials, claiming they either knew or should have known of Vancleave’s inability to properly store bodies.

Jimmy Pollard is the Executive Director for the Kentucky Coroner’s Association. He said there are no standardized practices for coroners across the Commonwealth, because everything is generally determined on a county by county basis.

“Each coroner’s office operates differently depending on where they’re located in the state,” Pollard said. “But, we do recommend that a body is put in some type of refrigeration. Either take it to the medical examiner’s office, or put it in some refrigeration until you can get it to the medical examiner’s office, if that’s what you’re having to do. Or, if you’re waiting for a funeral home.”

McFarland said the suit doesn’t mean the family of Nathan Peyton believes Vancleave or others listed in the complaint are bad people.

“We’re just saying this was a horrible mistake,” he said. “We’re saying that the treatment of Nathan Peyton’s body was careless, negligent and, in our opinion, was reckless. In the year 2023, no human being should be treated the way that the corpse of Nathan Peyton was treated.”

The attorney for the insurance company for Vancleave and others listed in the suit declined to comment.

No answer from any of the defendants to the complaint has yet been filed.