New York Funeral Home Allegedly Mishandles Remains of Covid-19 Victims

A new report by the New York Times sheds light on alleged misconduct by a New York funeral home during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home let scores of bodies of Covid-19 victims rot in U-Haul trucks parked outside its building. The owner, Andrew Cleckley, allegedly “continued to accept bodies even though he could not keep up with the mounting caseload and never sought outside help to lessen the burden,”  resulting in “dozens” of corpses “scattered haphazardly throughout the home,” with the families of decedents left unable to find their families members’ bodies.

One family member described in the Times report, Sharon Escobar, said her father’s face had decomposed so much “that she and her mother were eventually able to identify him only because of a scar on his leg.” State authorities reportedly revoked the funeral home’s director license in November in connection to his alleged improper handling of Covid-19 victims’ remains. He told the New York Times that his actions were “out of compassion.” As the Times notes, when other funeral homes in the city struggled to keep up with the volume of fatalities, they made space “in chapels or visitation rooms, raising the air conditioning to prevent decomposition,” and “had to send bodies to other cities or out of state to have them cremated.”

The Cleckley funeral home kept some bodies “stacked like cords of firewood” inside the U-Haul trucks, according to David Penepent, a funeral services director at SUNY Canton who helped develop a system for New York City to “transport bodies to crematories far from the city.” He described “unwrapped remains” piled around the truck without being embalmed. A Health Department report cited by the Times described “human remains were at advanced stages of decomposition and putrefaction, having been there for an extended period of time of greater than four weeks.” It went on to describe human remains lying on the chapel floor, “completely exposed or partially wrapped in sheets with stains of body fluids.” The funeral home allegedly did not embalm many bodies or take other measures to prevent decay, and remains were left “vulnerable to maggots.”

Cleckley’s attorney said in a brief sent to the state that health authorities did not proud any testimony “that a human remain entrusted to Mr. Cleckley was not treated with dignity and respect.” As the Times report goes on to describe, other people who entrusted their family members’ remains to the funeral home described “shoddy practices,” including one family who said it “misidentified” the remains of their relative, “sending them a photo of someone who was not her.”

Six lawsuits have been filed against Andrew Cleckley by relatives of people whose remains were allegedly mishandled by the funeral home.

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