MOSCOW, Idaho – It’s a dreadful telephone call: “We have to inform you your son has been in a horrific accident.”
Jeremy Lee Bass, 25, took that call from the Latah County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 18. But he has no son, yet. The deputy on the line was telling him he was the dead man.
The mistake didn’t end there.
Bass, of Moscow, is struggling to get his life back.
A week or so later, a major credit reporting agency listed him as deceased. So, Bass visited the Social Security Administration office in Lewiston.
“Oh my gosh, you are dead,” said a clerk after checking the computer.
Bass also received a hospital bill from Gritman Medical Center in Moscow for nearly $5,000.
“It definitely freaked me out a little,” Bass said, owner of a graphic design company called Zen Designs.
The man who died was Jeremy Charles Bass, 26, of Baker City, Ore.
The late Bass had wrecked a four-wheeler along the Latah Trail near Troy and died at Gritman Medical Center of massive injuries.
The trouble began at the hospital, said Bass, who has since enlisted legal help from Lewiston attorney Robert Kwate.
Jeremy Lee Bass had been treated at Gritman Medical Center years before and was already in the hospital’s system. So, when Jeremy Charles Bass arrived, the information became muddled.
The funeral home got some incorrect information from the hospital, and the death certificate ended up with the correct name and hometown but contained the wrong date of birth.
An amendment to correct the error had another small error as well.
The incident has been tough on Bass’ wife, Amy, who is pregnant.
“I’m a widow and a single mom,” she said, patting her husband’s arm.
When news of the late Bass’s death hit the newspaper, the couple’s friends thought the worst.
People were shocked when Amy Bass went to work at her waitress job in Lewiston the next day.
Many avoided her, not knowing what to say.
She fielded telephone calls from friends offering condolences. She responded by posting a declaration of her husband’s continued existence on the social networking Web site MySpace.com.
But their troubles are far from over.
They worry about the baby and wonder whether they’ll have trouble getting Medicare to help care for it.
They need a line of credit to fix their drafty Moscow home before the baby arrives.
He worries about being arrested for an invalid driver’s license.
Mostly, after being flat broke and homeless two years ago, Bass worries that two years of rebuilding his credit may be futile.
In Kwate’s Lewiston office, Bass pondered the death certificate, a worried man.
“It just comes at a bad time,” Bass said.
“When is it a good time to be declared dead?” Kwate asked.
“Preferably when it happens,” Amy Bass replied.
Their fight isn’t against a malicious entity, just “the bureaucracy,” Kwate said.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said the matter is under review.
Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt said she has learned to double-check dates of birth and other information.
Kwate and Bass have a number of groups to contact: credit agencies, the Social Security Administration, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Division of Vital Statistics and the hospital.
If necessary, Kwate says, he will ask the courts to step in.
“Courts can declare people dead,” Kwate said, noting cases where people have vanished. “If they can declare people dead, they can declare people alive.”
The couple will send copies of court documents to every place that “refuses to recognize his lack of death.”
And, Kwate said, they’ll deal with paying the expenses later.
“We’re fighting the system,” Kwate said. “Nobody meant to cause this, it just got input into the system.”
The Bass family hopes they can head off trouble before real damage is done.
“This is way too surreal,” Jeremy Bass said. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”