A human leg that was being transported for tissue donation was stolen from a parked van in downtown Los Angeles while employees of the nonprofit in possession of the body part were grabbing a bite to eat, county officials confirmed Wednesday night.
The leg was taken around 3 a.m. Monday, according to a memo sent by Mark Fajardo, LA County's chief medical examiner-coroner, to the county Board of Supervisors. The leg was in the care of OneLegacy, a nonprofit that works with local agencies to connect organ, eye and tissue donations with hospitals and transplant centers.
It had been collected from the coroner's office facilities.
The employees returned from their meal to find that the unmarked van had been broken into and that the leg was missing.
The thieves also took two backpacks containing the employee's personal belongings, according to OneLegacy, which noted that it does not believe the van was targeted because of the leg.
"This appears to be a routine vehicle break-in by thieves looking for valuables," read a statement attributed to Tom Mone, chief executive of OneLegacy. "The OneLegacy van involved in this incident is not marked in any way."
The nonprofit reported the theft to LAPD and the Coroner's office, according to the OneLegacy. According to its website, OneLegacy is the only group that transports dontated body parts and tissue from the coroner's facilities to hospitals and transplant centers.
"The OneLegacy team immediately called 911," said Mone's statement. "The LAPD responded to the call by 5 a.m. and helped the OneLegacy team conduct a search for the stolen items."
"The search was unsuccessful and a police report was filed. The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner's was notified later that morning. After meeting with the Coroner, OneLegacy also contacted the donor's family. "
The nonprofit and the Coroner's office took a DNA sample from the person who donated the leg, so that there would be a comparison in case the tissue was found, Fajardo wrote in his memo.
"The Office of Medical Examiner-Coroner is aware of and distressed by the theft of a body part,” the county said in a statement.
Both OneLegacy and the Coroner's office are planning changes as a result of the theft.
"A corrective action plan was instituted including never leaving organs/tissues unattended in a vehicle," according to Fajardo's memo.
The investigation into the theft also prompted internal conflict at the Coroner's office after someone began divulging details of the incident and a "potentially libelous" statement was posted on OneLegacy's website, according to Fajardo's memo to the Board of Supervisors.
" ... I was informed by OneLegacy that a potentially libelous statement was posted on the Donate Life website (under the name Frank Peters-not a known employee of the Department) detailing the particulars of the incident and that OneLegacy and the Medical Examiner-Coroner was involved in a cover up conspiracy," the memo reads.
Fajardo also said someone had contacted news outlets about the theft, including NBC4.
"As it stands today, we do not know who 'leaked' the information, but it appears at face value to be one of my employees," Fajardo said in the memo.