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Pasco Sheriff abruptly cancels land lease for USF's outdoor forensics facility

Posted at 4:59 PM, May 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-10 18:30:13-04

Dozens of people donate their bodies through the University of South Florida to a unique forensics facility in Land O’Lakes.

USF’s Dr. Erin Kimmerle launched F.O.R.T., short for Forensic Outdoor Research and Training, in October 2017.

Now the outdoor forensics facility is in jeopardy after Pasco County Commissioners and the Pasco Sheriff abruptly canceled USF’s long-term land lease this week.

“We call them gifts and that’s really what they are,” said USF’s Dr. Kimmerle. “We’re very grateful to the donors and their families.”

Tucked behind a privacy fence on three acres in Land O’Lakes, you’ll find dozens of tough decisions.

“It’s not easy to talk about end of life care. It’s not easy to talk about funeral home arrangements or donations,” said USF’s Donation Program Coordinator Gennifer Goad.

The human cadavers are donated by people who made arrangements before passing from cancer, old age and other ailments; people who wanted to live on after death by helping others through science.

“Once we have that skeleton, then we can do some of the training for facial reconstructions,” said Goad.

Law enforcement, crime scene investigators and researchers from across the county learn to better solve homicides here.

They study the effects of weather and wildlife on human decomposition.

“We’re committed to our families. We’ve made these promises. It’s been very successful.

We’ve pulled in tons of researchers from other universities, so we want to make this happen so we plan on looking for new property here in the Tampa Bay Area,” said Goad.

The terminated land lease leaves the program, body donors and their families in limbo.

USF says 50 people have already donated their bodies and 150 more have signed donation pledges.

“Already at least four or five calls a day where families are calling and they’re concerned,” explained Goad.

USF has three years to finish out its stay here but is asking Pasco officials to reconsider.

“I’m really sad especially for the donor families. I reassure them as much as I can but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Goad.