Arkansas funeral home owners charged with corpse abuse

AP News
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Posted: Jun 16, 2015 6:32 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The owners of a closed Arkansas funeral home were charged Tuesday with 13 counts of abuse of a corpse after regulators found bodies stacked on top of each other and some stored outside of a freezer earlier this year.

Arkansas Funeral Care's owners, 86-year-old LeRoy Wood and his 61-year-old son, Rod Wood, appeared in Jacksonville District Court early Tuesday and were released on their own recognizance.

Former funeral director and general manager Edward Snow was arrested and charged Monday with the same counts as the owners. He was released on $26,000 bond, according to arrest records.

The charges against the three stem from an investigation by the Arkansas State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which suspended the business' license during an emergency hearing in January.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal charges, Snow and other employees "began placing bodies wherever they could find a space for them in room temperature. Bodies were stacked on top of one another, on pallets, on the washer and dryer and on every available space they could find. Coffee cans with deodorizer were placed next to bodies to help with the odor in the room."

Employees told police that the Woods refused to stop taking bodies despite the lack of space, according to the affidavit. The employees said there was an unusually high volume of death calls in January, but that the owners added to the back-up by refusing to perform services until they were paid in full.

According to the affidavit, the owners authorized services on some bodies once the investigation began. Investigators removed 31 bodies and 22 sets of cremated remains. The condition of 13 of those bodies was believed to qualify for charges of abuse of a corpse.

The Woods didn't respond to phone messages seeking comment about the charges, and an attorney for Snow declined to discuss the case.

The State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors investigated after a former employee complained. The board's records show LeRoy Wood surrendered his funeral director license, his crematory license and his funeral establishment license after signing a consent agreement with the board in early February that also required him to pay a $10,000 fine and refund payments to families that had not received adequate services.

Several families have since filed lawsuits against the funeral home claiming their loved ones suffered from "skin slippage," discoloration and other signs of decomposition because their bodies were not embalmed or cremated in a timely manner.

"I've been with the board roughly 16 years and I've never seen a case like this. We've never seen a case this extreme," said Amy Goode, executive secretary for the board. "It's very unusual for anything of this nature to be reported."

The board's investigator contacted Jacksonville police during its investigation to ask for a definition of corpse abuse and later turned over all materials that could involve a crime. Jacksonville police interviewed former employees and added to the board's findings.

In addition to the criminal charges, the board will hold a hearing to review several remaining complaints against Snow on July 9.