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Grieving Families Say They Got Wrong Ashes

WEST PALM BEACH (CN) - A South Florida funeral home was sued for the second time in two months for allegedly giving grieving family members the ashes of a "complete stranger" instead of the those of their loved ones.

Ronda Mitchell and Tiesha Mack filed separate lawsuits against Taylor-Smith-West Funeral Home in Palm Beach County circuit court, both claiming that the facility handed over the wrong ashes.

Mack says in her lawsuit that after her newborn baby son passed away last July, she entrusted the child's remains to Taylor-Smith-West for cremation.

The funeral home delayed the process for weeks and eventually produced an urn with the child's name engraved on it, Mack says.

But when Mack took the urn to Edgley Cremation Services, where the cremation was supposed to have taken place, the proprietor "opened the urn and discovered the ashes of a grown man," Mack alleges.

In September, Mack's family member confronted Taylor-Smith-West Funeral Home and demanded an explanation, at which point the funeral home finally handed over the body, Mack says.

Nearly three months had passed since the baby boy died, but the cremation had not yet been carried out, according to Mack's lawsuit.

"Defendant provided false information to the Bureau of Vital Statistics" and had "falsely represented to Plaintiff, Tiesha Mack, and others that the urn contained the ashes of the deceased ... when in fact, as Defendant well-knew, the urn did not," the lawsuit states.

Ronda Mitchell's lawsuit contains a narrative similar to Mack's case.

Mitchell's pleading states that after her mother died, Taylor-Smith-West took possession of the body and then gave Mitchell the run-around for an extended period of time.

According to the lawsuit, each time Mitchell inquired about her mother's ashes, the funeral home would tell her that the urn Mitchell had ordered was "not in stock."

After months of waiting, Mitchell visited the funeral home and asked for her mother's remains, "even if they were just in a box," the lawsuit states. A funeral home employee then "picked up an obviously opened box off the floor at her desk and walked into another room," eventually returning with what were supposedly the ashes of Mitchell's mother, the complaint says.

Mitchell claims the employee then told her, "Just leave [the ashes] here with me so we can make sure it is your mother."

Like Mack, Mitchell says she then went straight to the crematorium, whose owner allegedly told her he had never even received her mother's body.

Mitchell says in the lawsuit that she realized Taylor-Smith-West Funeral Home had been lying to her. She says she looked at the cremation certificate and found that the funeral home had doctored the document to make it "appear like a genuine Certificate of Cremation issued by Edgley Crematory." The signature on the document is a "forgery" that is "strikingly similar" to the real signature of the crematorium's owner, Mitchell alleges.

Mitchell never located the remains, and "the whereabouts and condition of [her] mother's body are unknown at this time," the complaint says..

Taylor-Smith-West, which is owned by Stinson Industries Inc., declined to comment on the litigation.

Edgley is not implicated in any wrongdoing in the lawsuits, nor is it named as a defendant.

Both women seek compensatory and punitive damages on claims of infliction of emotional distress and "tortious interference with dead bodies" under Florida cremation statutes. Mack's lawsuit includes an additional count for fraud.

Tiesha Mack is represented by Charles White in Miami, Fla.; Ronda Mitchell is represented by Vincent Pravato of Wolf & Pravato of Fort Lauderdale.


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