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Families Say Funerals Were Stuff of Nightmares

LITTLE ROCK (CN) - Two lawsuits filed against an Arkansas funeral home that has since had its licenses suspended paint a haunting tale of a facility in chaos, where bodies were stacked on top of each other, unrefrigerated, and left to decompose.

A lawsuit filed in Miller County Court Tuesday was the second filed this week against Arkansas Funeral Care LLC and its owner, LeRoy Wood.

Chris and Justin Rowell say the Jacksonville funeral home left their mother's remains unrefrigerated for nine days before she was seized along with 30 other bodies by Arkansas state authorities.

Cheryl Cross-Smith and Linda Bennett sued Arkansas Funeral Care LLC and its owner in Pulaski County Court on Monday.

Bennett, the mother of the deceased, says the family's nightmare began when she paid $3,200 for the November 2014 funeral of her son who passed away from complications while receiving treatment for liver disease.

She says when the body arrived at Arkansas Funeral Care's facility, it appeared normal, with little sign of swelling.

"That, while in the care, custody and control of Arkansas Funeral Care, Mr. Smith's body was severely neglected and abused, not refrigerated, and left to decompose and decay for approximately three (3) days before the funeral on November 8, 2014," the family says in their 28-page complaint.

Bennett says the day before her son's funeral she was advised by the funeral home that she would not want an open casket.

"That, upon inquiry by Ms. Bennett into why defendant Arkansas Funeral Care's employee advised Ms. Bennett to go against the family's wishes of an open casket funeral service, the employee stated, 'You don't want to know.' After demanding an immediate explanation, Ms. Bennett was told, 'He looks like a monster, and he is completely green.' Stating further, 'if you view the body, you will have nightmares.'"

When Smith, the man's wife, called the funeral home after hearing from her distraught mother-in-law what took place, she was told her husband's body "had been left on a slab."

"That, on the day of the funeral, Mrs. Smith demanded that she be able to view her husband's body and was again refused by an employee of defendant Arkansas Funeral Home. That it was not until Mrs. Smith disclosed that her religion required a sacramental and ceremonious ritual of touching and holding her husband's hand in prayer must be performed before he would pass into heaven, was she permitted to view the body in private.

She says what she witnessed was nothing short of horrific: "deteriorated flesh falling of his face and hands, bodily fluids excreting from his orifices, the body lying in embalming fluid, and his clothing and the lining of the casket saturated with embalming fluid."

"As a result of the horrendous, gruesome and appalling sight of her husband's desecrated body, plaintiff suffered overwhelming and devastating emotional distress and mental anguish," the family says in their lawsuit.

Smith says she placed numerous telephone calls to the funeral home to discuss the family's dissatisfaction with its interment preparations, but never received a return call back.

Despite several attempts, Arkansas Funeral Care could not be reached by phone and did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.

According to the Rowell's complaint, their horror began after receiving a call from authorities with the State of Arkansas, who informed them that, even though nine days had passed, their mother's remains had still not been cremated.

"Following their contact with authorities from the State of Arkansas, plaintiffs have since learned, through various media reports, that 31 bodies, including their mother's remains, were seized by authorities on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at defendant Arkansas Funeral Care," the Rowell brothers say in their complaint.

"These same media reports also indicate that, since an investigation by authorities beginning on Tuesday, January 13, 2015, defendant Arkansas Funeral Care had left bodies at is facility unrefrigerated and not embalmed during that period and that at least one body was allowed to deteriorate into 'an obvious state of decomposition.'"

According to the Arkansas Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, the licenses of Arkansas Funeral Care, and its owner, Woods, were suspended following an investigation that found bodies stacked on top of each other, among other chilling infractions. The suspensions were handed down at a Jan. 21 hearing.

The board imposed a $10,000 fine against Woods and the funeral home.

Both families are seeking compensatory and punitive damages on claims of negligence, outrage, breach of contract, and unlawful mutilation of human remains.

Cheryl Cross-Smith and Kendall Smith are represented by Harold Cook of Little Rock, Ark, and Whitney Murph of the city's Kitterman Law Firm.; the Rowells are represented by Jonathan Prazak with Boyd Prazak LLP of Texarkana, Texas.

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