Monday, August 22, 2005

Why isn't this on Court-TV?

This story by Matthew Thompson in the Charleston Daily Mail is, at once, sad, terrifying... and hilarious::

MADISON -- The trial was to continue today in a lawsuit by a Boone County family against a funeral home and embalming business that allegedly returned a relative's brain to the family members along with his personal effects.

Three-year-old Kelsey Clay was present when the dissected brain of her recently deceased grandfather, Charles Quarles Sr., was found in a bag among the returned belongings, according to lawyer Victoria Casey.

'It's Paw-Paw's guts,' Casey quoted the little girl as saying in opening statements Thursday in Boone County Circuit Court.


Tina Quarles and her brother, Charles Jr., decided to sue Armstrong Funeral Home in Whitesville and contract embalming business Charleston Mortuary Service. They claimed they suffered from emotional distress and that the funeral home and embalming service negligently mishandled the body.


Funeral home owner Jim Armstrong and Charleston Mortuary proprietor Jim Lowry say the incident was the fault of the state medical examiner's office and not their own.

Originally, the medical examiner's office was a defendant in the case, but the office reached an out-of-court settlement with the Quarles family earlier this week. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the settlement amount was nominal, but they wouldn't be specific.


On Oct. 9, Charles and Tina went to the funeral home and were given two plastic bags containing their father's personal belongings.

At Tina Quarles' residence, they began to open one of the plastic bags to locate their father's Social Security check, which they believed he had recently received. Not finding the check, the two opened the second bag.

Inside that bag, they found the brain, according to the lawsuit.

Casey argued the family members would be haunted by the image for the rest of their lives.

"There is not enough medicine or counseling in this world that can erase that image from their brain," Casey said. "Their father's funeral was blighted. That's something else they have to live with for the rest of their lives."

Casey said the plaintiffs now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, she said, when Tina Quarles went to buy a head of cauliflower at the grocery store, she became hysterical.

When a co-worker talked about going to a weekend funeral, Charles Quarles Jr. suffered a flashback, which made him depressed, the lawyer said.

Colleen McCulloch, the lawyer who represents the funeral home, called the incident, "very unfortunate," but said that her client is not to blame.

"Mr. Armstrong understood that the two red bags were his belongings," McCulloch said. "Funeral home protocol clearly states you do not open personal belongings without permission from family."

McCulloch said that the medical examiner's office made the error and not her client.

Lawyers for both sides agreed that when Quarles died, his body was autopsied to determine the cause of death. His brain was then taken out and dissected, a normal part of the procedure.

Then the brain was supposed to be wrapped up in a clear plastic bag and put back in the skull cavity, lawyers said.

When the body arrived at Charleston Mortuary to be embalmed, Lowry noticed the brain was gone. Kip Reese, the lawyer for the mortuary, told jurors in his opening statement that Lowry just believed the brain had been kept by the medical examiner's office for further research.

Then the two bags were sent to the Quarles home without being examined.

Linda Dickens, one of the plaintiff's witnesses, testified the bag with the brain was dripping with fluids and had flies around it.

Dickens, a family friend, was called by Tina Quarles to come and take pictures of the bag's contents. The pictures, showing pieces of the brain inside a plastic bag marked "biohazard," were shown to the jury as exhibits.

After her arrival at the home that day, Dickens said she noticed Tina was in shock.

"Tina was catatonic," Dickens testified. "She just had this blank stare."

On cross-examination, Dickens told McCulloch that she saw little Kelsey Clay handle the fluid-soaked bag.

Dickens, a former emergency medical technician and certified nursing assistant, said she immediately thought the area where fluids had dripped should have been sanitized.

"I thought they needed to bleach the area," Dickens said. "Or at least burn the chair."


At 3:07 PM, Blogger James said...

When I first started reading this article, I thought, 'how dare you poke fun at a family who have recently suffered the loss of a loved one.'

When I read the part about the brain in the bag, and the kid's quote, how could you not laugh? It's Hysterical!

My favorite part is about the family member going into the super market and breaking down in front of the cauliflower. You just can't make that up.

Now, after that said, are we insensitive to the fact that someone is deceased and that most likely the family (especially the kid who saw Paw-paw's guts) is scared for life?

I ask of you here to maybe say a short prayer for the family and the man, and to try and stop laughing at their misfortunes.


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