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Charlotte funeral home shut down after violations

BadFuneralHome
T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte Mortuary funeral home was shut down by the state board after a series of violations, including not releasing a body to a family, having an unlicensed funeral director planning services and commingling ashes.

State regulators have shut down a Charlotte funeral home after complaints the company took a body from a hospital without proper authorization, told a family their relatives’ ashes would be commingled and had an unlicensed funeral director selling services.

Charlotte Mortuary Inc. is a one-story brick building on Honeywood Avenue, off Brookshire Boulevard. The North Carolina Board of Funeral Services revoked its license on Feb. 6 and ordered it to immediately complete any pending funerals and “cease accepting dead human bodies.”

Vanessa Kirkland complained that Charlotte Mortuary took her brother Frank Phillip Jr.’s body from a hospital without authorization and threatened not to give it back unless the family paid $200. She said she was glad to hear the funeral home had been shut down.

“We were all very upset,” she said of the 2010 incident involving her brother’s funeral.

No one returned a message left on Charlotte Mortuary’s phone Monday, and owner George Slay did not return a message seeking comment.

Peter Burke, executive director of the state funeral board, said Charlotte Mortuary could appeal the board’s decision and attempt to reopen, though no appeal has been filed. He said the company applied to change its ownership in late January, which could allow it to reopen, but that the application has been halted due to paperwork issues.

Burke said the number of funeral home license revocations varies yearly in North Carolina, from none to a dozen. Funeral home investigations are usually initiated by customer complaints, Burke said.

The trouble at Charlotte Mortuary started in July 2010, according to the funeral board. That’s when Phillip, who worked at a scrapyard, had a heart attack and died at Carolinas Medical Center, Kirkland said. His girlfriend’s daughter told Charlotte Mortuary to take the body, according to Kirkland and documents from the funeral board. But the family had said they wanted the body to go to Alexander Funeral Home, which they had used since Kirkland’s great-grandmother died.

When the family discovered what had happened, Kirkland went to get her brother. But Slay, the owner of Charlotte Mortuary, wanted to be paid, according to funeral board documents.

“Mr. Slay told me I was not going to get his body unless I gave him $200,” Kirkland said in an interview. Three days later, the funeral board said Slay relented and released Phillip’s body to the family.

In another incident, an undercover funeral board agent went to Charlotte Mortuary in December 2010 and arranged a cremation with Slay. Although Slay was not a licensed funeral director, he “described the types of services and merchandise available for sale,” the funeral board said.

“George Slay wrote down the selections of Agent on a blank piece of paper, signed the paper, and gave it to Agent,” the funeral board wrote. He didn’t provide the itemized statement required by law, the board said.

The third incident was reported in September 2012, when Roselyn Smith died. Three days after her death, the family held a memorial service. Charlotte Mortuary didn’t bring an urn to the service. After the family asked where her ashes were, the funeral board said the company “returned to the funeral home and brought an empty urn back to the service.”

The funeral home “represented that the cremated remains would be commingled with other individuals,” an illegal practice in North Carolina. Smith was cremated Sept. 12, and her sister filed a complaint with the state funeral board the next day.

Horace Gunn, the mortuary’s manager and licensed funeral services director, was placed on probation by the funeral board for three years and fined $1,000. Gunn could not be reached by phone Monday. Staff researcher Maria David contributed

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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