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Suit Alleges Corpses Were Mishandled

May 17, 1991|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Six mortuaries and funeral societies were named Thursday in a class-action suit alleging mishandling of thousands of corpses, including commingling during cremations and removal of dental gold.

The defendants include Cremar Inc., a crematory located in Anaheim, and mortuaries and funeral societies that contract with Cremar, including the Telophase Society of America, Sentinel Cremation Societies Inc., Sheffer Mortuary Inc., (also known as the Ray Family, Flowers by the Sea), Tustin Mortuary Inc., (also known as Saddleback Chapel), and the Neptune Society of Orange County.

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, alleges that the actions occurred between 1981 and March, 1989. It names eight plaintiffs, all from Orange County.

James D. Kane, manager of Tustin Mortuary, denied the allegations in the suit brought by plaintiff Ava Reddy, who sought cremation of her father in April, 1987.

"We send every family a follow-up form to discuss anything that they didn't like. In the case of Ava Reddy, at no time did we hear anything about her dissatisfaction or about this until today," Kane said.

He added that Cremar has had a good reputation for more than 15 years. "That's why we use them," he said.

The lawsuit alleges disfigurement of bodies caused by the stacking of "over 35" corpses in a refrigerator designed to handle 12 bodies, mutilation during the cremation process, and mixing the remains of the ashes without preserving their integrity or identity.

The other defendants could not be reached for comment.

Gary Sodikoff of Santa Ana, a lead attorney in the suit along with Melvin Belli of San Francisco, said the number of plaintiffs would grow if a judge certifies the lawsuit as a class action.

"We have eight (plaintiffs), and we anticipate, based on an analysis of the cremations completed, that the class may be as large as 20,000 people," Sodikoff said.

Thursday's allegations were similar to a major legal action against Harbor Lawn Memorial Park in Costa Mesa and the Neptune Society of Orange County, which a judge consolidated from more than 300 lawsuits into a class action in the mid-1980s.

Harbor Lawn and the Neptune Society eventually settled for $22 million, plus another $5 million in administrative costs. But settlement funds have not yet been distributed, according to Betty McMullen, an attorney who represented several plaintiffs.

Despite the settlement, both companies have denied any wrongdoing.

The other defendants are Dorothy Bushnell, George Fuguet, Joseph Fuguet, Betty Young, Lammerchina Allen, Pamela Stoneham, and Emily Nichols.

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