Westmoreland County seeks bids for corpse transport contract
Westmoreland County is looking to hire a company to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and be available to go anywhere in the county for a pickup.
On the surface, it appears to be just another job for a transportation company. But it is highly unlikely Uber, Lyft or any bus and taxi companies in the region will seek out this contract.
The county is seeking a company to transport human remains.
“Bodies have to go to autopsies, then to storage and there’s a cost to transport them,” county Coroner Ken Bacha said.
It’s a chore his office does not perform, as Bacha said his office doesn’t have the manpower or necessary equipment for the work.
Private firms are being asked to submit sealed bids for the transportation contract. Bids are due Sept. 3, and a new contract is expected to be awarded by county commissioners later in the month.
Hribal Services Inc., based in Mt. Pleasant, has been the company transporting corpses for the coroner’s office for nearly two decades and will likely seek a new contract. It’s the only company that has sought out the job in recent years.
“I worked for a funeral home and thought it was something I could do when I first saw the county advertise for a contract,” said company owner Sean Hribal, 44.
The company has about seven employees and a number of vans, gurneys and other equipment needed for the job. Hribal, however, is not directly involved in the transportation of remains.
That’s because his other job is as a full-time deputy coroner for the county. He served as a part-time deputy coroner when he first formed his company and was first contracted to provide corpse removal for the county in 2000.
“We got permission from the solicitor’s office, and we have policies in place so no decisions about who to transport are made by Hribal,” Bacha said. “The decisions go back to me or my chief deputy if a body goes to autopsy at the Forensics Center or there for storage.”
Hribal currently earns $49,564 as a deputy coroner and works 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Meanwhile, transportation costs for the coroner’s office have gone up significantly since Hribal’s company was first contracted.
According to the county controller’s office, Hribal’s firm was paid nearly $60,500 in 2007. As the number of suspicious deaths due to suspected drug overdoses steadily rose over the next decade, so too did the price to transport those remains for autopsies. The county paid $214,000 in 2016 in transportation costs for human remains.
Hribal’s company, in those years, was taking bodies back and forth to Pittsburgh, where autopsies were performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht and his team. Under terms of its previous contract, Hribal’s company was paid $750 for each round trip to Pittsburgh.
In mid-2017, Wecht relocated his autopsy business to the county’s Forensics Center in Hempfield, where the coroner’s office is based. As a result, it became less costly to transport human remains. Under the current contract signed in August 2017, Hribal’s firm is paid a flat fee of $425 for each body it transports. It was paid $191,000 in 2017; $148,980 in 2018 and, through June this year, it billed the county less than $90,000. That contract expires in September.
Bacha said that as the overdose deaths continue to decrease, so will the costs to transport corpses in the future.
“The costs have gone down significantly,” Bacha said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .