Jury de­cides against fam­ily in cre­ma­tion case

Finds fu­neral home’s neg­li­gence didn’t cause ‘se­ri­ous’ dis­tress

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Nate Gartrell ngartrell@ba­yare­anews­group.com

MARTINEZ >> The em­ploy­ees at Alta Vista Cre­ma­tion and Fu­neral Ser­vice were about 25 min­utes into a cre­ma­tion when they re­al­ized they had made a ter­ri­ble mis­take.

The body in­side their fur­nace — that of 91-yearold Vin­cent Jarvis — was sup­posed to be sent to the county coro­ner for an au­topsy be­fore the cre­ma­tion, but that didn’t hap­pen. Up­set and un­sure how to pro­ceed, the em­ploy­ees called their boss, who told them to open the fur­nace and pour wa­ter on the body that was burn­ing at around 900 de­grees. That fur­ther dam­aged the re­mains.

In the end, a skin­less, headless and charred torso was sent to the coro­ner.

The May 2013 in­ci­dent at the Pacheco fu­neral home left Jarvis’ fam­ily badly shaken to this day, his daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth Den­ni­son said.

The fam­ily, who had re­quested the au­topsy, filed a law­suit against Alta Vista. On Oct. 5, af­ter a three-week trial, a jury re­turned its ver­dict: The fu­neral home had been neg­li­gent in start­ing

the cre­ma­tion, but the fam­ily was not en­ti­tled to any dam­ages.

The rea­son? Ju­rors found that the mis­take had not caused Jarvis’ fam­ily “se­ri­ous” emo­tional dis­tress. Den­ni­son dis­agrees. “We can’t even look at a pic­ture of our dad without see­ing some­thing atro­cious and grue­some,” she said. “We don’t un­der­stand what hap­pened. This is some­thing that is af­fect­ing us daily; we can’t think of our own fa­ther.”

Gil Pur­cell, an at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs, said they plan to file an ap­peal, and blasted sev­eral of the trial

judge’s rul­ings as “ridicu­lous” and non­sen­si­cal.

“We’re go­ing to keep fight­ing the good fight,” Pur­cell said.

At­tor­ney John A. Ma­son, who rep­re­sented the fu­neral home, said in an email his clients were pleased with the ver­dict and re­ferred to the mis­take as an “un­for­tu­nate pa­per­work er­ror.”

“Our client did ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion and en­sure that the dece­dent’s lungs could, in fact, be re­moved by the Con­tra Costa County Coro­ner’s Of­fice as the plain­tiffs had de­sired,” Ma­son said.

Be­fore the trial, a judge granted a de­fense mo­tion that lim­ited the plain­tiffs’ claims, rul­ing that the fu­neral home had made an

hon­est mis­take and af­ter that point, em­ploy­ees did ev­ery­thing they could to get what was left of Jarvis’ re­mains to the coro­ner for an au­topsy. One em­ployee at the home said dur­ing de­po­si­tion it was an “un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stance that we tried to fix to the best of our abil­ity to ful­fill what they asked us for.”

Jarvis’ daugh­ters said at that point, they would have told the fu­neral home to sim­ply fol­low through with the cre­ma­tion.

“That, to me, is a coverup,” Jarvis’ daugh­ter Florence Viveros said. She said she went to Alta Vista be­cause her fa­ther had se­lected it and she wanted to fol­low his wishes.

COUR­TESY OF GILBERT PUR­CELL

Florence Viveros, left, and El­iz­a­beth Den­ni­son, right, daugh­ters of Vin­cent Jarvis, cen­ter, sued the Pacheco fu­neral home af­ter it pre­ma­turely cre­mated their fa­ther be­fore an au­topsy could be per­formed.

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