Back in 2002 all of us in the death care industry got a shock when we found out about what was happening in Georgia with the case of the Tri-State Crematory. For those of you who are too young or just don’t remember it was the first time we ever heard of a funeral trade services provider willfully being found to have multiple violations of care of the bodies entrusted to them. Funeral homes from all over the area had entrusted Tri-State to cremate bodies for them, as a trade cremation partner, but later found out that many of the bodies were not cremated, but just buried on the property.
Over the weekend KKCO/KJCT of Grand Junction, Colorado reported that they now have discovered that the closed Sunset Mesa Crematory in Montrose, Colorado, not only made use of its crematory for bodies entrusted to them by consumers, but also operated as a trade service for other funeral homes. You can see the news report and story here.
As you may know, Sunset Mesa has been closed down and since October 2017 there has been an on-going FBI investigation with allegations that the ownership of Sunset Mesa did not cremate all the bodies they were entrusted with, but sold at least some of them to body part brokers for profits. It is then alleged that they returned dry cement to families with the belief it was the cremated remains of their loved ones.
It turns out that Item #20b on the Colorado state death certificate indicates where a deceased was cremated. Families are now being asked to check that item number out on the death certificate to see if they, too, could have had a loved one brought to Sunset Mesa and then sold as body parts. One funeral director in the area admits on the video that he did use Sunset Mesa as a trade cremation partner but only for a short period of time.
According to the story, KJCT News also has a copy of a letter from the FBI addressed to one of these families. In that letter, which you can see part of on the video, KJCT reports that it is the first time where you can see an official document to a family that says the family may be “victims of crimes”. The FBI tells the families to stress the importance of checking your death certificates.
Funeral Director Daily take: The Tri-State Crematory case back in 2002 jarred us all in funeral service. It made us really take notice of who we were entrusting bodies to on behalf of the families we served. This alleged case against Sunset Mesa Funeral Services in Montrose, Colorado, should have the same effect on all in funeral service today.
My guess is that those firms that trusted Sunset Mesa to take care of their cremation cases will now get dragged into duty to care lawsuits by families that contracted for their services and did not know that that particular funeral home contracted out its cremation services. And, if one of the funeral home client families is found to have been part of the alleged Sunset Mesa neglect, the lawsuit might be the least of your problems as you struggle with the negative publicity in such a reputation bound industry.
If you, as a funeral home, don’t operate your own crematory, you really need to know who your crematory contractor is and, in my opinion, you really need to let your clients know, and have them acknowledge, that you will be sending the loved one out of your building for cremation. There is just too much riding on it to not be totally above board in this respect.