Originally created 07/06/99

Area companies refuse to clean crime scenes



In a split second, Cynthia Gilbert and her sister Synethia Elaine Jones heard the gunshot, and Anthony "Snoop" Williams lay in their back bedroom with a bullet in his head.

Within minutes, police swarmed the scene. Emergency workers tried to resuscitate Mr. Williams. He was taken to a hospital but was declared dead that morning, June 12.

According to police, Mr. Williams, 26, was shot by Ms. Jones' ex-boyfriend, Ricardo Marquette Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton, 18, later was arrested and charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

After the ambulance and police drove away from the two sisters' Hale Street apartment, they were left to clean up the bloody reminders in the bedroom. Blood spattered the walls and pooled on the sheets. A pillow and oxygen mask were left behind by rescue workers. A bloody imprint remained on the bed, along with other bodily fluids, said Ms. Gilbert.

"I couldn't go in the room," she said. "I couldn't stay there. I couldn't stay in the house."

When a person is shot or stabbed, commits suicide or dies naturally, the scene can be gruesome, said homicide Investigator Wayne Bunton of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department.

"Depending on what type of incident it is, if the body is left in the home for several days without being detected, you run the risk of insect infestation," he said. "It's a prime breeding ground for disease. If gunshots are involved, the scene is going to get quite messy."

It is not the police department's job to clean up. Nor is it the coroner's job. In fact, families are hard-pressed to find any company in Augusta that will clean up the remains.

"The employees have to be trained to handle hazardous material wastes, like blood," said Leroy Sims, the coroner. "There's a couple of companies in the state that do it -- one in Macon, one in Savannah. But nothing in Augusta."

Mr. Sims refers people to those two companies, when they ask for help. He said the companies' fees are high, but often insurance companies will cover the cost.

What typically happens is that family members and friends don gloves and clean up the remains themselves, Mr. Sims said. The coroner and police warn people about health hazards involved with any type of bodily fluids.

"AIDS, hepatitis, infectious diseases -- these are the things people need to watch out for," Mr. Sims said. "Certain diseases can survive a long time outside of the body."

The coroner's office will give the victim's family heavy-duty rubber autopsy gloves if they choose to do the cleanup. Mr. Sims also suggests wearing masks to protect against airborne diseases and clothes that can be thrown away. Undiluted bleach also comes in handy to sanitize the area and kill certain diseases.

Exterminating companies can be called to deal with any insect infestation in a residence, as well as to air out the area, Mr. Sims said.

If a carpet or piece of furniture is heavily blood-stained, sometimes the best option is to throw it away. But disposing of hazardous wastes can be a problem. BFI, a medical waste removal company from Evans, said it serves only clients who have accounts. That way, the company can ensure proper packaging of the waste and protect the drivers.

Other Augusta cleaning companies refuse to work these types of cleanups as well because of the risk to employees.

"We would turn them down just because of that -- because of any blood-borne diseases," said Rita George, the manager at Professional Carpet Systems Inc. She said the company rarely gets requests for crime scene cleanups. The owners of The Housekeepers and Mighty Maid, both in Augusta, said they almost never receive those requests either.

At the apartment where Mr. Williams was shot, Ms. Gilbert said she needed several hours before she could go back. Her sister chose not to.

"I took a friend with me," Ms. Gilbert said. Everything was exactly how they left it. The blood was still wet. I just stared for a moment. I could still see him -- see him laying there on the bed."

Ms. Gilbert stuffed the blood-soaked covers in a grocery bag and left it on the bed.

"I just didn't want to look at it," she said. "I left the room and shut the door. I was thinking, `I've got to get out of here."'

Jessica Rinck can be reached at (706) 823-3225 or jessica.rinck@augustachronicle.com.