New Mexico Widow Sues Utah Crematory, Claims Ashes Mix-Up

April 27, 2012

A New Mexico widow whose husband was killed in a 2009 plane crash is suing a Utah crematory and funeral home after she says they gave her the wrong person’s ashes.

Marilynn Flynn of Alamogordo has filed a federal lawsuit against McDougal Funeral Home and the Independent Professional Services crematory, claiming the businesses were negligent, violated a contract and intentionally inflicted emotional distress while dealing with the remains of her 59-year-old husband, Michael Wayne Flynn.

“This has devastated her. She has not been the same since,” John D. Wheeler, Flynn’s New Mexico-based attorney, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “She’s hoping to identify what went wrong here and to correct it in a meaningful way so this won’t happen to other individuals.”

Michael Flynn was one of three employees of Montana-based firefighting company Neptune Aviation Services who died when their plane crashed into a mountainside in rural Tooele (too-WILL’-uh) County, Utah, on April 25, 2009. The weather was bad while the trio had been flying from Missoula, Mont., to fight fires in New Mexico.

Michael Flynn’s body was recovered and cremated, but Marilyn Flynn says she didn’t open the urn until she started preparing for her husband’s funeral around the one-year anniversary of his death.

Her attorneys say she was surprised to find a dental bridge fragment, a crown and porcelain fragments that didn’t appear to belong to her husband. A forensic dentist confirmed they didn’t come from Michael Flynn, and the widow of the pilot killed in the crash confirmed her husband hadn’t had that kind of dental work done.

Marilynn Flynn’s attorneys say the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City and seeks at least $75,000 in damages, is about locating Michael Flynn’s remains and finding how the alleged mix-up happened.

McDougal Funeral Homes had taken custody of the body from the state medical examiner’s office, and arranged for cremation with Independent Professional Services.

The crematory’s owner, Gerald Newlon, told the Deseret News that the body arrived in a “disaster pouch.” In cases like Flynn’s, he said, all the contents go into the crematory, one body at a time.

Newlon said employees clean the crematory with a brush before each body goes in, and said the ashes are combed with a magnet to remove metals.

But he said his company’s contract advises family members that foreign objects may sometimes be present with the ashes.

Representatives from the McDougal Funeral Home declined comment to the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Flynn’s attorney said the discovery is distressing for his client, who had hoped her husband’s ashes would be mingled with her own when she dies.

“She feels devastated. She feels she let her husband down because she didn’t secure his remains,” Wheeler told the Deseret News.

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