Family receives ashes of father months after he dies
77-year-old's body was rotting in broken refrigerator at funeral home
ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – A woman who learned from an I-TEAM report that her father's remains were rotting inside an Atlantic Beach funeral home weeks after he was supposed to have been cremated now has her father's ashes.
Lynn Simon said her father, Burton Acker, died in May at age 77. She only learned that state inspectors had found his decomposed remains last week inside a broken refrigerator at the First Coast Funeral Home by watching an I-TEAM report and calling the state to confirm the body was her father.
The state inspector who discovered Acker's remains delivered his ashes to Simon on Tuesday afternoon, 68 days after Acker died.
“Right now, I'm feeling a little more relieved, but the last five days have been heartbreaking, gut wrenching,” Simon said. “Yesterday, I was sick for hours. I had to lay down because I couldn't quit throwing up, so I'm in a better frame of mind. I've got my daddy back, and I'm happy.”
Simon was not smiling Monday when she spoke to the I-TEAM and explained that no one from the state called her last Thursday when they found her father's remains. She said she had to call the state twice to get confirmation that it was her father after she saw the report on News4Jax.
Simon said she made weekly payments for the cost of her father's cremation to John Rayan, manager of First Coast Funeral Home and its sister company, Beaches Memorial Park, starting the day after her dad died.
"He explained until I got at least half of it paid, my dad would be there and then he would send him off after you paid off half. Just half,” Simon said.
She has the receipts showing that by May 11 -- within a week of her dad's passing of heart failure -- she had paid half of the $2,760 Rayan charged her, so she says her father should have been cremated. She paid off the other half by June 2.
But inspectors with the state Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services found Acker's decomposing body last Thursday -- more than two months after his death.
“He needs to go to jail. This is fraud,” Simon said. “Disrespect of the body, or however they put it.”
Funeral home owner Amanda Rayan told the state inspector Thursday that the body was already decomposed when she received it, even though it had been transported to the cemetery's office building the same day Acker died.
“Now I have to go through all these emotions again because of John Rayan. It's like he died again. Now I have to find out where his body is,” Simon said Monday.
Her father's ashes were delivered to her Tuesday, and the I-TEAM was there to try to get answers from the inspector.
He said he couldn't answer whether any other violations were found at the cemetery because it's the subject of an active investigation.
“I can't discuss it,” James Deason said. “But you're free to contact our offices in Tallahassee, and they'll be glad to help.”
The I-TEAM asked Deason why Acker's family wasn't contacted last week when his remains were found.
“I can't answer that,” he said.
He also declined to comment about why law enforcement wasn't called, despite the discovery of the improperly disposed of remains.
“It's an active investigation. I can't discuss it,” Deason said.
Monday, the I-TEAM emailed the state Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services asking why the state inspector's office never called the Atlantic Beach Police Department or the State Attorney's Office to report the discovery last Thursday. A spokesperson told the I-TEAM Monday afternoon, "The nature of the finding is precisely why we contacted the State Attorney's Office."
But in a statement sent to the I-TEAM at 2:04 p.m. Monday, the State Attorney's Office wrote that it "was not notified by the state agency regarding this matter. We are now aware, and it is part of the ongoing investigation."
The state Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services has yet to explain the inconsistency.
Even though the cemetery's license has not been valid since Jan. 1, the state is still allowing burials to happen there for clients who purchased pre-need burial contracts. The state still has not disciplined the owner for failing to renew the license.
As a result of what happened to Acker, the state Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services also suspended the business' funeral license. And the owner's license to sell pre-need contracts was suspended July 1, which means the cemetery is only permitted to perform burials involving contracts that were written before Dec. 31, 2015. It is not allowed the write any new contracts, according to the state Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services.
Asked what to tell customers who have contracts with First Coast Funeral Home or Beaches Memorial Park, the state sent this statement:
Please have consumers who contact you with Beaches-related pre-need contract questions contact our office. In some instances, consumers can obtain a partial or full refund for the amounts paid for the pre-need contract from the Florida Preneed Consumer Protection Trust Fund. We have designated an individual who shall personally serve as the lead for all Beaches-related Consumer Protection Trust Fund claims. Consumers should mention that they are calling with Beaches/First Coast Funeral Home questions so that they may be directed toward the specified person."
If anyone has a complaint about Beaches Memorial Park or its sister company, First Coast Funeral Home, they can contact the I-TEAM at email@example.com or 904-479-NEWS.
Anyone who has questions about existing contracts can call the state’s Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services at 850-413-3039, or toll-free in Florida at 800-323-2627.
Complaints against the funeral home can be filed on the division's website.
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