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Wrong body buried in mom’s grave

Though a funeral ad pledged a “personal promise to honor your loved one and help create a healing experience for your family,” Morris Coyle and Pam Deleon say they experienced the opposite when their mother died last August.

In a lawsuit against Hennessey-Smith Funeral Home & Crematory and Holy Cross Cemetery, the siblings say they often have trouble sleeping and have experienced anxiety. The two are seeking undisclosed damages for emotional distress after a cemetery employee buried the wrong casket – containing the wrong body – in a plot reserved for their mother in August.

Days after the funeral for Teresa R. Pendell, Coyle and Deleon had to go back to Holy Cross’s mausoleum and positively identify the remains of their mother, who the cemetery admits did not get buried for nearly a week after she died, said the lawsuit.

The family chose not to embalm Pendell’s remains as it sought a speedy closure after her death, records say.

Coyle, who was at work when he was notified, said he burst into tears upon hearing of the mistake.

“The thought of having to identify my mother’s unembalmed body after six days of deterioration in the hot summer sickened me,” Coyle told his attorneys in the lawsuit.

Dennis Fairbank, Holy Cross’ general manager, has apologized for the mistake.

“It was an unfortunate circumstance,” Fairbank said Monday. “The family was not properly served by cemetery staff.”

Fairbank said the remains of Sandra Potter ended up being buried in the plot where Pendell should have been placed. Fairbank said the cemetery notified both families after the mistake was discovered. Pendell’s family subsequently had her remains buried at a site roughly 30 yards away from where she was to be buried, Fairbank said.

Coincidently, the families of both women requested closed-casket services and had the remains placed in the exact same casket style, say court records. Potter’s family has not taken any legal action against the funeral home or cemetery. A hearing scheduled for Friday before a judge was postponed until August.

In a sworn statement, R. Lee Darlington, funeral director at Hennessey-Smith, said the mix-up was the fault of a Holy Cross cemetery worker.

Family attorney Bob Caruso criticized Hennessey-Smith’s unwillingness to accept any blame.

“They’re devastated, they are seeking psychiatric help,” said Caruso, who urged his clients not to comment to the media. “Hennessey-Smith made certain promises that it did not fulfill.”

Tammy Williams, Hennessey-Smith’s Seattle-based attorney, could not be reached for comment. However, in a written response to the lawsuit, Williams argues that any “negligence or fault” rests with a cemetery worker who is not employed by Hennessey-Smith.

In court papers, Darlington states: “On the date of the service, I personally dressed the remains, placed them in the casket, and drove to Holy Cross. Upon arrival, I was met by Dave Kosola, an employee of Holy Cross Cemetery. Dave and I transported the casket from the hearse to the front of the chapel, placing it between four candles.”

Darlington said he then gave the burial permit to Kosola. “Once the burial permit is transferred to the cemetery, the cemetery becomes responsible for the remains,” Darlington said in court papers.

“They (Hennessey-Smith) have just thumbed their noses at my clients from the start,” Caruso said. “They took the fun out of funeral.”

The lawsuit says Teresa Pendell died at Deaconess Medical Center on Aug. 13, 2003. Coyle and Deleon met with officials at Hennessey-Smith and Holy Cross shortly after she died, the lawsuit alleges.

The family wanted “immediate closure,” states the lawsuit, and requested an immediate funeral which was set for Aug. 16, say court records.

When Pendell’s family went to Holy Cross for the funeral, services for Potter were about to conclude, court records say. Todd Pendell, Morris Coyle’s half-brother, noticed that the name on Pendell’s casket had Potter’s name on it, according to court records.

The lawsuit says that when Todd Pendell approached Darlington, he immediately “moved himself between the casket and Todd Pendell,” court papers say.

Said Darlington in court papers: “I then assured him that Teresa Pendell’s remains were in the casket, as I had personally prepared them and transported them to the mausoleum. Neither the Deleons nor Coyles appeared to me to be upset about the incident.”

Jay Deleon and funeral attendee Monica Peeler said they also saw Darlington remove Potter’s name from the casket. Darlington reportedly told Todd Pendell that Holy Cross “had made a mistake that would be corrected,” records say.

But on Aug. 17, Pam Deleon called Darlington to let him know that family members doubted whether Pendell was actually in the casket at the mausoleum, according to court papers. Again, Darlington reiterated that it was Holy Cross officials who were responsible for the wrong name on the casket, records say.

Later, Pat Tutwiler, Hennessey-Smith’s general manager, called Pam Deleon and told her that her mother had “not been buried yet,” court records say. Furthermore, Tutwiler said it was possible that Sandra Potter was buried where Teresa Pendell should have been, records say.

Finally, after burying Pendell at another plot, court records say that Teresa’s grave marker has her first name misspelled.

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