Wash. funeral home at fault in body mix-up

KELSO, Wash. -- A Kelso funeral home will be on probation for one year and must pay a $12,500 fine after Washington state investigators concluded its funeral home employee mixed up two men's bodies, which ended with one man mistakenly cremated and the second man in the casket of the first man's funeral.

Dahl-McVicker Funeral Home was charged with unprofessional conduct when an employee, Norm Burns, did not immediately add identification bracelets to the bodies of Jerry Moon, 72 of Castle Rock, and Robert Petitclerc, 92 of Kelso, when they were transferred from hospice to the Dahl-McVicker Funeral Home, according to charging documents by the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) and the Washington State Funeral and Cemetery Board.

The On Your Side Investigators obtained the documents Monday, which provides the first timeline of how the mix-up happened, who was at fault and the statement of charges against the funeral home.

Moon and Petitclerc both died Oct. 13, 2013 within 50 minutes of each other at Community Home Health and Hospice in Longview. According to the report, Burns picked up both men's bodies to transport them to the funeral home but "did not place an identification bracelet on the remains" of either man. That was a violation of several state laws, according to the report.

It was only later, when Burns arrived at Dahl-McVicker, that the report states he incorrectly placed ID bracelets on each man.

"He removed both remains from the vehicle, brought them into the funeral home and at that point attached identification bracelets identifying Mr. Moon's body as Mr. Petitclerc's and a bracelet identifying Mr. Petitclerc's body as Mr. Moons," the DOL report states.

Regulation requires funeral homes to attach a bracelet or tag to the wrist or ankle of the body at the removal site, which is supposed to remain on the body at all times until burial or cremation, according to Department of Licensing spokeswoman Christine Anthony.

On Oct. 17, Moon's body, labeled as "Mr. Petitclerc," was transported to Longview Memorial Park Crematory and was cremated but without the proper "authorization from individuals that have the right to control disposition of the remains."

Meanwhile, on Oct. 15, Dahl-McVicker released Petitclerc's body, labeled "Jerry Moon," to Brown Mortuary Service. It transported the remains to the Sticklin Funeral Chapel where Petitclerc's body was embalmed. Three days later, Petitclerc's remains, labeled as "Moon" were transported back to Brown Mortuary Service, which would host the funeral.

The mistake wasn't discovered until Oct. 21, more than a week after their deaths, when Moon's family opened the casket to say their final goodbyes and realized Moon was not the person in the casket.

Kenneth Dahl, who is the manager of the funeral home, told investigators he called Moon's son and explained that his father was mistakenly cremated.

The DOL report states that several mistakes were made in the process but Anthony said no one else - including Brown Mortuary - was at fault.

"The other people who handled the remains, were under the impression they were dealing with the correct remains as they received them from Dahl-McVicker so we didn't find they had knowingly violated the law," Anthony told KATU in an email statement. "At the time the embalming and the cremation was being done, the mix up hadn't been discovered yet. It was discovered when the family of Jerry Moon wanted to see him one more time before he was buried."

KATU spoke with members of both families, including Petitclerc's widow, who was deeply concerned that the ashes she received after-the-fact were not her husband's.

Anthony told KATU that, "We confirmed as best we could the ashes were the remains of Jerry Moon," but did not immediately return emails about Petitclerc's ashes.

Dahl-McVicker has 20 days to appeal the ruling.

Under the conditions of probation, the Dahl-McVicker funeral home can not commit any violations of the law, and must pass all inspections and audits conducted by the Department of Licensing."

"The probationary period means we will be monitoring Dahl-McVicker very closely. They may be inspected and audited more often, and if we find any violations, they may face further sanctions," Anthony told KATU.

Anthony also said DOL doesn't have the authority to order a business to pay restitution to the families.

The On Your Side Investigators contacted several family members related to Moon and Petitclerc but calls were not immediately returned Monday. KATU also called Shawn Briggs, the attorney representing both families but his secretary said he was at trial Monday.