Hearse and body stolen in Atlanta; police arrest suspect

AP News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2015 6:19 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — A man accused of snatching a funeral home employee's car keys, stealing a hearse with a body inside and later carjacking an SUV, has been arrested, Atlanta police said Monday.

Henry Lyles, 34, was arrested Sunday in Douglas County, just west of Atlanta, and faces two counts of hijacking a motor vehicle, Atlanta police Sgt. Gregory Lyon said.

It happened Sunday morning when an employee of Willie Watkins Funeral Home went to Grady Memorial Hospital to retrieve a body.

As he walked toward the front of the vehicle to drive away after getting the body, a man who had approached him earlier snatched his keys, saying "give me the (expletive) keys and get in the car." The thief then pushed him down and drove off with the body inside, the police report says.

It crashed through the locked security gate on its way out, according to hospital spokeswoman Denise Simpson.

A short time later, police got a call from a man whose Ford Explorer had been stolen a few blocks from the hospital.

The man told officers he pulled up next to a Ford Flex that was stopped. A man then approached him and ordered him out of the vehicle, a police report says.

The Explorer driver told police he just sat there because he was shocked. The man then asked him if he wanted to die, pulled him out of the vehicle and drove off in the Explorer, the police report says.

Officers later recovered the hearse with the body still inside and Lyles was arrested in Douglas County.

He was being held without bond Monday, online records showed. It wasn't immediately clear whether he had a lawyer who could comment on the charges.

Darrell E. Watkins Sr., a licensed funeral director at the funeral home, said that when a manager told him the hearse had been carjacked, his first thought went to his employee. Then his heart dropped when he realized a body was inside.

"None of us had ever fathomed the idea of someone carjacking or taking a body," Watkins said.

Watkins was relieved later to be able to tell the family whose loved one's body was stolen that the body had been recovered.

Watkins said the incident raises questions about Grady's security.

The hospital spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that Grady is reviewing the incident to see if additional security measures are needed. But she also said the hospital's security officers followed proper procedures Sunday.

She cited an "unusual set of circumstances," saying a man who had come into the trauma center to be checked out after a single-vehicle accident left the trauma center and made his way to the loading dock.

Security personnel were notified that the man had left the trauma center and began a search, she said. A member of the security team got to the loading dock just as the vehicle was being driven away.