COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—An Ohio coroner has fired an employee blamed for an error that led to the body of a 1-year-old boy being cremated against his family’s wishes.
Franklin County Coroner Jan Gorniak fired seven-year employee Angela Summerfield on May 26, saying she did not follow proper procedure and released the wrong body to a funeral home.
The coroner says Summerfield’s error led to the release of the body of 1-year-old Jaylen Talley, instead of the body of a 22-day-old infant whose family wanted cremation.
Summerfield says she checked identification tags before releasing the body to a funeral home driver. She says she plans a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Gorniak now requires employees to take photographs to identify bodies before release. She plans to install security cameras to monitor employees.
An initial review indicated that Jaylen’s body was released to the wrong funeral home because Summerfield did not follow proper procedures, which include opening the body bag, looking at the body and matching up paperwork with toe and ankle tags, Gorniak said.
The cause of death was still pending for Jaylen, whose family said he died May 18 after suffering breathing difficulties since birth.
Gorniak learned of the mistake after her office called to find out when the funeral home would be picking up the body of the younger child and was told it had already done so.
Jaylen’s relatives had been planning to bury him in a tiny white tuxedo. The coroner went to their home to explain what had happened.
“I cannot imagine what this family is going through,” Gorniak told WBNS-TV, her voice choking with emotion. “Sorry doesn’t cover it at all, and obviously I’m deeply sorry. I offered them my condolences. But I know that’s not enough.”
Family members expressed shock and demanded that the coroner change the way her office handles things.
“They really just hurt my son. They really just put him in some fire and burned my son,” Jaylen’s mother, Jamere Sydnor, told WSYX-TV, tears rolling down her cheeks. “It’s like he got killed twice.”
Dan Pallay, the owner of the funeral home that cremated Jaylen, said members of his staff were unaware that the body was that of an older child and not a 22-day-old infant because they did not open the bag out of respect for the deceased.