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State agency says it did not respond to Return to Nature funeral home concerns in 2020

Return to Nature Funeral Home
Posted at 9:57 AM, Feb 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-13 11:57:35-05

PENROSE, Colo. — The Fremont County Coroner alerted the state in 2020 about concerning conditions inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home, according to arrest documents for the funeral home's co-owners. The documents reveal the coroner said he never received a reply.

The co-owners are now accused of improperly storing 190 bodies inside the funeral home. Investigators said some of the bodies were left to rot for years and some were found uncovered.

The Fremont County Coroner's Office said Coroner Randy Keller was notified in May of 2020 by subcontractors who went inside the funeral home in Penrose. The coroner's office said employees told the coroner they saw bodies kept on the floor instead of on tables or cots, and they raised concerns about refrigeration inside the building.

The coroner's office said Coroner Keller sent an email to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) about the concerns. The office said he told the department if it could not inspect the funeral home, he would do an inspection himself. The coroner's office said DORA never responded.

A spokesperson for DORA said they received the email from Coroner Keller in 2020. The agency said the email was sent to an employee who
never responded. The spokesperson said the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Inspections under DORA did not have the authority to inspect funeral homes at the time. The spokesperson said it wasn't until 2022 that a bill was passed granting them inspection authority.

The Fremont County Coroner's Office said the coroner would have liked to receive a reply from the department for clarity on what to do next.

The Return to Nature Funeral Home is set to be demolished the last week of February, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

Jon and Carie Hallford, the co-owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home, will both appear back in court on March 21 for separate arraignment hearings. 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen expects the two to plead not guilty to 260 felony counts, he said in a press conference last week.

Fremont County coroner alerted DORA about Return to Nature Funeral Home in 2020