Families of those warehoused “improperly” in unrefrigerated U-Hauls and in a funeral home chapel are preparing to sue all those responsible for the mishandling of bodies during the height of the COVID-19 crisis that killed more than 21,000 people in New York State.
Attorney’s representing Angela Rodriguez, who died on April 9, said they are going to sue Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home on Utica Avenue in Flatlands Brooklyn for the improper storage of bodies that were supposed to be cremated. Police swarmed the funeral on April 28, where they found workers stacking scores of bodies from two U-Haul trucks into a large refrigerator truck. Police say the bodies were in there for weeks.
Funeral home officials claim that the bodies were supposed to be accepted by crematories, but those unnamed funeral companies failed to pick up and kept “canceling appointments for pick-up,” causing the Cleckley to store the bodies any way they could.
Attorney’s for the Rodriguez family, Morgan & Morgan attorneys Mike Morgan and Kathryn Barnett announced that the firm has been retained to investigate the alleged “mishandling and desecration” by Dekalb Funeral Services and Cleckley’s part in the case. The attorney’s held a Zoom press conference this morning where they decried both funeral homes and said they will be seeking paperwork and records of both and seeking out other families whose deceased family members were “mistreated.”
Attorneys say that after the death of 77-year old Angela Rodriguez, her granddaughter contracted with Dekalb Funeral Services to care for the remains. Despite calls to DeKalb, the Rodriguez family received no update regarding their loved one until the Medical Examiner’s office notified them that “Mrs. Rodriguez’s body had been found in an unrefrigerated U-Haul, where multiple bodies were reportedly discovered.”
The case came to the attention of police when calls were made to 911 saying decomposing bodies were being improperly stored and blood like liquid was leaking from the trucks. When police from the 63rd Precinct arrived, they found workers in Hazmat suits transferring the bodies from the U-Hauls to the larger refrigerated truck. Police sources said the trucks were stacked to the roofs with bodies as was the funeral chapel.
Officials then stopped the move and demanded the home back the large truck up to the doors and conceal the body movement from the horrified public watching from across the street. While no arrests were made, the State Department of Health suspended their funeral home license and officials raided their offices to review all of their paperwork in regard to accepting the bodies.
The brother of the owner of the funeral home claimed that crematories were canceling appointments for pickups and funeral homes were just leaving bodies with them. He claimed they reached out for help from the city, but “nobody did anything until the police came here.” He said he couldn’t comment further saying, “I’ve probably said more than my brother’s attorney wants me to say.”
“The best way to get answers is to file a lawsuit so we will demand that records be preserved and provided to us,” said Barnett. “What this family has been through, no family should go through and a jury will have to decide what to do.”
Barnett said the remains of Rodriguez were picked up on April 4. She said the family then called Dekalb Funeral Home in Bedford Stuyvesant on April 6, and was told that the body is being picked up by the crematory “and you shouldn’t worry, the body will be handled properly.”
Barnett said the family again called the funeral home on April 24 asking about the remains of the grandmother and was assured everything was fine. On May 7, the family was informed by the City’s Medical Examiners office that the body was discovered at Cleckley.
“This is important because it is not just Rodriguez, there are many other people whose remains were found and were supposed to be scheduled for cremation,” Barnett said. “There is no way to justify this, they were just keeping the lie going. They accepted to take charge to take care of Mrs. Rodriguez and other families and eventually, the law had to step in.”
Barnett said the funeral homes were motivated by money in holding onto the bodies and this “violated their trust – they knew they had no intention of fulfiling what they had promised.” She said they will seek punitive damages against all the funeral homes involved.
“This will deter other funeral homes from doing this – they were charged with the care of these loved ones and the families are in a vulnerable condition,” she said. “They could’ve called for help but they didn’t.”
Morgan said that when the family again contact Dekalb to ask why their grandmother was at Cleckley, “they hung up on her.”
“The lawsuit when filed still in its early stages, we will find out everyone involved, and we believe there are multiple funeral homes in this scam,” Morgan said. “They didn’t have to take these remains, nobody forced them – so the claims are professional negligence, deceptive trade practices and we will seek punitive damages, deter any funeral home from ever taking advantage of families again.”
Attorney’s believe there were 60-65 bodies at Cleckley and they were destined for crematories in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It is still unclear why the bodies were being brought to Cleckley in the first place as they had no adequate storage. They allege “money” was the motive for taking in more bodies than they could handle.
Attempts to reach Andrew T. Cleckley funeral were unsuccessful. A person answering the phone at Dekalb said “no comment, you can speak to our lawyer,” but failed to provide that information.
Contributions by Jessica Parks
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