Wrong body given to family
One woman had died in a fire; the other had died of a possible drug overdose.
HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) -- The wrong body was released to the family of a woman who died in a fire and because nobody opened the body bag to make a positive identification, the mistake wasn't discovered until after the body was buried.
The Butler County coroner quickly took responsibility for the mix-up.
"It is our fault," Dr. Richard Burkhardt said. "It is our responsibility and we apologize to the families involved."
The bodies of the two women were in correctly identified body bags waiting to be picked up at the morgue, and apparently nobody looked at the IDs, he said. He would not elaborate further.
Deborah Reed, 52, died in an apartment fire Friday. The coroner's office in Hamilton, about 20 miles north of Cincinnati, released the body of Paula Webb, a 23-year-old woman who died of a probable drug overdose Saturday, to the Zettler Funeral Home, which was to handle Reed's funeral Tuesday, Burkhardt said.
The error was not discovered until inquiries were made by Webb's family Tuesday about picking up her body, said Kenny Isaacs, the coroner's assistant office manager.
"One of our investigators looked at the remaining bag, then started backtracking to see who had picked up who," Isaacs said. "We knew at that point that we had Mrs. Reed, so that had to be Mrs. Webb."
By then, Reed's family had buried the wrong body and had left the cemetery. The coroner's office, wary of compounding the error, ordered the body to be exhumed later Tuesday for a positive identification before notifying the families, Isaacs said.
Reed's son, Brian Winkle, said family members did not look at the body before burial, and apparently no one else did, either.
Tom Zettler, managing director of Zettler Funeral Home, said it is not his policy to check on the bodies of fire victims.
"You trust the coroner to determine the cause of death and so forth, and that the correct body would be released," Zettler said.
Learning about mistake
Winkle said a family member learned of the mix-up after receiving a call from a friend who lives next to Greenwood Cemetery. The friend said a body was being exhumed by detectives and the coroner's office.
"I came out here and asked a couple of people who work for the cemetery. They were covering up the hole," Winkle said. "One of them finally told me apparently the woman buried wasn't my mother."
Burkhardt said the quick exhumation was not an effort to hide the mistake.
"There was nothing sinister, although they may interpret it as that," Burkhardt said. "Reed did not leave our morgue. Webb is the one who got buried in the wrong grave."
The Zettler Funeral Home said Reed would be buried in a private, graveside service at a time to be determined by the family. Webb's funeral is to be Friday in nearby Fairfield, with burial in the same cemetery as Reed.
Burkhardt would not identify the employee responsible for the mix-up.
"There will be some discipline," he said.
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