SAMMAMISH, Wash. — On this cold and rainy day at Tahoma National Cemetery, a cloud of disrespect hangs over the most solemn of ceremonies.
“It is. It’s tragic. My family and I are devastated,” says Jerry Weber.
Weber is having to endure a second funeral for his father, World War II veteran William Weber.
“I am just wrought with just anger, and just sadness, and just the negligence that went into this. It’s just unspeakable,” he tells us.
Two months earlier, in the first ceremony, the funeral home Weber trusted somehow placed the wrong person in his father’s casket.
“I don’t know who that person is, who received military honors in my father’s casket,” says Weber. “My father’s not buried with my mother at Tahoma National cemetery. It’s a stranger.”
Passing of a hero
Weber says staff from Curnow Funeral and Cremation Service took possession of his fathers remains after he passed away on October 11th. He stayed with his father until Curnow staff tagged the body and took him away.
“I watched him load my father’s body into the van for Curnow Funeral services and drive off. And that’s the last time I saw my father’s body,” says Weber.
The family didn’t catch the mistake because, according to Tom Yokes, the director of Tahoma National Cemetery, the facility does not allow open casket funerals.
“The identification part of that is done at the funeral home either by them or with the family prior to arrival at the cemetery,” says Yokes.
The first funeral was held on November 12th.
“It’s one thing to be at a funeral of military honor. But it’s another thing to be a recipient. You’re standing in the place of the veteran receiving those honors,” says Weber.
A call you never want to get
Three weeks later, Weber says he received a call from Brian Curnow of Curnow Funeral Home.
“He told me it wasn’t my father. Some mixup. I said well what’s the mixup? What happened? Well, we’re looking into it. What mixup could occur like this?” says Weber.
According to a lawsuit filed by the Weber family, after nearly two months at Curnow William Weber’s body was badly decomposed. He still had a catheter attached and was wearing an adult diaper. He also had on the same shirt the hospice nurse placed on him after he died.
Jerry Weber says he would not have discovered any of this if he hadn’t hired a new funeral home to retrieve his father’s remains.
“Which is the only reason I was able to find out the condition of my father’s remains, which were so poor they did not want me to come in and do a visual recognition of my father’s remains,” says Weber. “They didn’t even want to send a picture.”
Christine Anthony from the Department of Licensing, the agency that regulates the funeral industry, says Curnow Funeral and Cremations Service did not report this to state regulators.
“Curnow has not self-reported this incident to DOL. We opened an investigation based on the information we received from you,” says Anthony.
State law on these cases is pretty clear. It says funeral establishments shall “not perform any act which will tend to affect adversely the dignity...the respectful and reverential handling and burial of human remains...”
Anthony says the state Funeral and Cemetery Board will handle the investigation.
“We know this is a terrible situation for the family so we’re going to do our best to try to figure out what happened,” says Anthony.
Lots of questions, not so many answers
Since Jerry wasn’t getting answers, I decided to stop by Curnow in Sumner to see if I could get some.
But the person who came down the stairs wasn’t giving up a thing: not what happened, not how it happened, not why nothing has happened on this case at all.
“Like I said, I can’t comment on it currently. I’ll have to pass this along to our media people,” says the Curnow employee.
After that visit the company did send a response:
“We are working with the family and proper authorities, including the Washington State Department of Licensing, regarding this matter.”
We showed the statement to Jerry Weber.
“It’s disturbing, there’s nothing here I would consider illumination of what occurred. There’s nothing here that says what occurred, why it occurred, how it occurred,” says Weber.
Making it right
We do not know the person who was mistakenly buried and later exhumed from Weber’s parents’ grave.
But this son recognized he had to finish where others failed.
“My father needs another ceremony. He wasn’t there. When I looked at this flag I realized it was not draped over my father,” says Weber. “And now I have to be there for him again.”
And he was.
On January 7th, William Weber, an Army and Air Force Veteran who served with distinction in WWII was properly buried at Tahoma National Cemetery. He was 97 years old.
Now William and his wife Helen are together again.
“To make it right. And that’s what this is about. Making it right for my dad,” says Weber.
Yesterday, two months after the mix-up, Curnow Funeral Home sent Jerry a letter formally apologizing. They also sent a refund, plus money for the second funeral.
Jerry says the lawsuit will still move forward because he wants to know how this happened.
Curnow says it has reached out to the other family. We don’t know who they are, but we feel for them too.
We will keep you up-to-date on the state investigation.
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