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Which ashes are dad's?

A son is left with two sets of cremains and no sure explanation or remuneration.

By PAUL SWIDER
Published October 21, 2007


Andra Walters still has both sets of ashes and no new information, though a funeral director received a license of suspension and fines this month. "I got no refund, no explanation, nothing," Walters says.
photo
[Willie J. Allen Jr. | Times]
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Still grieving from the loss of his father two months earlier, Andra Walters felt some comfort in January 2006 when he received his father's cremated remains.

Then another set arrived.

"I said you've got to be kidding," said Walters, whose father, Nathaniel, died on Nov. 8, 2005. "We're sitting there stunned. In my hands are cremains, in my uncle's hands are cremains, and I don't know if either of them are correct."

Walters still has both packages of ashes and no new information, though the state Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services handed down punishment this month to funeral director Leroy Sims Jr., who was in charge at Serenity Memorial Funeral Home when Walters' father was cremated.

Andra Walters said he was never notified of proceedings and in any case feels no better for the license suspension, probation and fines levied against Sims.

"I got no refund, no explanation, nothing," Walters said.

The fiasco started shortly after Nathaniel Walters' funeral in November 2005. Andra, waiting for his father's ashes, called the funeral home repeatedly but was always put off with statements that the crematory was busy. He went to the funeral home, at 3301 Fifth Ave. S, and found that it was now a different business. Serenity was gone.

Walters called Palm State Crematory Services in Clearwater, where his father's body had been taken, and was told the bill wasn't paid but he could pick up his father's ashes. His father's body had arrived on Nov. 21, they said, but wasn't cremated until Dec. 29. Still, Walters had his father's remains, he thought.

Then he got a call from his uncle, Tim Walters, who said he had another set of ashes, from Bay to Bay Crematory in Tampa. An investigation hasn't concluded exactly whose ashes Andra Walters has, though one set is likely his father's and the other likely that of a Howard Simmons, whose family never sought his remains, investigators said.

An investigative report says a Serenity employee took Nathaniel Walters' body to Palm State for cremation. Sims said the body came back to Serenity because the funeral home had unpaid bills with the crematory. He said he and Serenity owner Leon Thomas then took the body to Bay to Bay. Investigators are unsure of this.

The report says Thomas and Sims did take a body to Bay to Bay, but it lacked the lawfully required identification. That body also apparently had been embalmed but not refrigerated before delivery, because it had mold on it.

Sims says he doubts there was mold on the body, but that the whole affair wasn't his fault but the result of Thomas' bad business practices. Still, he agrees that the law says the funeral director, not the funeral home owner, bears ultimate responsibility for any infractions. He said the law should be changed.

"Once in a while you run into somebody out there trying to make a fast buck and they take advantage of all of us," said Sims, 74, who with his wife runs Grace Funeral Home in Palmetto. He said his punishment -a six-month license suspension, one year's probation, $3,500 in fines and $2,800 in restitution - is light because the state "recognizes that I was sort of the fall guy."

The restitution in the case doesn't involve Walters; it is connected to other infractions involving client overpayments, lack of contract procedures, and not revealing to clients that caskets they purchased were actually rented instead.

The investigation also revealed that there were other remains Serenity never collected from crematories, something Sims said is not unusual when families can't pay funeral bills.

"It doesn't sound good," he said, "but that's the way it is."

None of which helps Andra Walters. He knows someone is responsible, but he still doesn't know if he has his father's ashes.

"I doubt this is a first-time mistake," he said. "I think this is the first time they got caught."

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

[Last modified October 20, 2007, 21:44:27]


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