By Daina Beth Solomon
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican authorities fired a forensic official on Tuesday after an outcry over the storage of some 150 bodies in a refrigerated container truck that roamed towns in Jalisco state, where morgues are filled with victims of the country's drug war.
Killings in the western state, home to one of Mexico's most violent and powerful drug gangs, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, have already hit a record 16,339 so far this year, and the national homicide rate is rising having already hit its highest in modern history last year.
Accusations that authorities in Jalisco were mishandling bodies flared last week after the semi-trailer truck with 150 corpses was spotted in a warehouse on the outskirts of Mexico's second largest city Guadalajara, drawing the ire of the mayor of the borough, who said it was illegally parked.
It then turned up next to houses in a field further from the city, where neighbours complained it emitted a powerful stench.
Jalisco state spokesman Gonzalez Sanchez told local radio that Luis Octavio Cotero, who had headed the forensic institute since 2015, was dismissed because he failed to take responsibility for storing the bodies.
Cotero told Reuters that his agency was not responsible for storing the unclaimed bodies, and accused the government of making him a scapegoat after he questioned the findings of an investigation into the disappearance of three film students earlier this year.
"It's bad political conduct. I feel sorry for the institute," Cotero said, adding that state officials knew they needed more morgue space as much as two years ago.
"Only now are they looking around ... It's inefficacy that has put our state in such a sorry position," he said.
Cotero said another 100 bodies were being kept in a separate refrigerated truck parked at the forensic institute, and that the other truck had been forced to move for lack of parking space.
The state's spokesman said an investigation has begun to sort out "numerous versions" of who gave orders to move the containers.
Mexico's national human rights commission and its Jalisco branch on Tuesday called for a probe into the case, describing the local government's treatment of the cadavers as "inhumane."
Work on a new facility to hold 700 bodies is underway, the state's general secretary Roberto Lopez told local media last week.
(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)