But in 1988 a friend in the coroner's office called him to free-lance as an autopsy assistant for the county coroner. He began passing out his phone number on scraps of paper, and soon he found himself scrambling to keep up with calls for help.
For a fee, he used to clean up after homicides, fatal accidents and decomposed bodies. But he has since spun off that service to his brother, Gavino, 44, who operates Post Traumatic Clean Ups as a part-time business.
Gavino Herrera said relatives of the deceased, too upset to tidy up the death scene themselves, are usually pleased that the service exists. But the fledgling business has not taken off yet, he conceded.
"It could be a lot busier," Gavino Herrera said. So far this year, he has cleaned up after fewer than 50 bodies, a tiny number of the more than 60,000 people who die in Los Angeles County each year.
A similar death-industry firm has taken off in Baltimore. Crime Scene Clean Up began two years ago serving Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia, and Pennsylvania, said owner Ray Barnes. Like Vidal Herrera, Barnes is a former forensic investigator who saw opportunity where others recoiled.
In addition to crime-scene cleanups, Barnes transports bodies. His business has grown to six employees, and he expects to take in $3.5 million this year.
"Most definitely there's a growing need," Barnes said. "Even if the murders level out, there's still enough to sustain our business with natural deaths."
Seeing a lucrative future in grim death statistics, Barnes and Herrera plan on franchising their businesses.
But Herrera warns that it's not for everyone. Only embalmers, forensic investigators, pathologists and autopsy assistants are qualified to run such franchises, he says, as long as they also have business savvy.
Said Herrera, "I'm an autopsy technician, but above that I am a businessman."