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    Troubled funeral home faces more suits

    Abbey Parklawn Funeral Home is accused of bungling cremations, funerals, burials and storage of several people.

    By DEBORAH O'NEIL

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published October 26, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- More than a year after Pam Scott paid to have her mother's cremated remains added to her father's remains, the Palm Harbor woman has discovered that the urn given to her by Abbey Parklawn Funeral Home might not contain either of her parents.

    An expert has told her the light-blue marbled urn only contains the remains of one person. Who that is, Scott doesn't know. And she has no idea where her parents' remains are.

    Scott's charges are outlined in one of seven lawsuits filed Thursday against the beleaguered low-cost funeral home in Dunedin, which is in state receivership.

    Pinellas County recently severed a contract with Abbey Parklawn after paying the outfit for five years to bury the county's poor and unclaimed bodies. County officials were concerned after hearing reports of botched funerals and other problems.

    In July, Abbey Parklawn mistakenly cremated 49-year-old Marie McNair before her family's scheduled viewing and funeral. McNair's daughter, Quintella McNair of Clearwater, a county client, filed one of the lawsuits Thursday. "A pattern is beginning to emerge," said Clearwater attorney Tom Carey, who is representing all of the clients. "I think they were overwhelmed with bodies and understaffed. That led to disaster."

    Michael Walsh, who manages Abbey Parklawn with his wife, Jeannie, said he could not comment on the lawsuits. He directed calls to the business' court-appointed receiver, James Stephens, who could not be reached.

    Thursday's lawsuits bring the total legal actions filed recently by clients of Abbey Parklawn to eight. In August, a Largo woman sued the funeral home claiming workers there neglected, improperly stored and improperly embalmed her husband. All are seeking damages for pain and suffering.

    Scott's father, John G. Scott, died of congestive heart failure at age 80 in 1997. Scott had him cremated at Abbey Parklawn and held onto his remains so Scott's mother's ashes could be placed with his after she died. Scott was told her parents' remains would be placed in separate compartments in the same urn.

    When Gloria Scott died at age 76 from Alzheimer's disease in April 2000, Scott turned over her father's remains to Abbey Parklawn. It took the funeral home two weeks to cremate her mother, according to the lawsuit.

    When finally Scott received the urn, it had only one compartment. Scott said she had lingering worries about Abbey Parklawn, so she approached Carey.

    Carey brought the ashes to an expert and had them sifted and weighed. The first thing they discovered was the remains weigh 6 3/4 pounds, about what one person's ashes should weigh, Carey said.

    The second thing they found were metal dental crowns in the cremains. Neither of the Scotts wore dental crowns, according to their dental records and their daughter, who says her parents both wore dentures.

    "It's not my parents," said Scott, 50, with tears rolling down her face. "I was looking for some kind of closure in my mind. I think with time there will be. Right now, it just stirs it up."

    Her friend Peg LaRosa, 51, said she and Scott had hoped nothing was amiss with the remains. Now, LaRosa said, she's just livid.

    "How dare they?" LaRosa said. "How dare they do this? It's just wrong."

    In the other lawsuits:

    Chris Huneke of St. Petersburg claims the funeral home did not consult her before burying her mother on top of another woman. Such burials are common, but Huneke said she never would have approved such an arrangement.

    Margaret Algee of Largo says the funeral home removed the graveside marker and headstone of her husband, John Algee, without her consent. Now, according to the lawsuit, Algee is unsure if her husband's remains have been disrupted or if another person has been buried in the adjoining gravesite, which Algee also purchased.

    Jeffrey Ulrich of Palm Harbor says Abbey Parklawn employees denied his request to see his mother's body after her death, saying it was in too bad a condition to be viewed. Then, the funeral home cremated Jane Ulrich, although her family members had not signed a cremation authorization form.

    Mary Chorkey-Kefalas of Seminole claims the funeral home told her she could not have an open-casket funeral for her husband Gerry Kefalas because his body had not been properly refrigerated, according to the lawsuit. When Chorkey-Kefalas, who was a county client, was shown her husband's body, it was in a state of decomposition, according to the lawsuit.

    Darlene Keating of Clearwater, also a county client, is claiming the funeral home failed to care for her husband's body and allowed it to decompose. During his funeral, Keating said she and her two young sons saw fluid was leaking out of his casket.

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