Family is shocked when their son shows up days after his funeral service.
Five years ago, the Orange County (O.C.) Coroner’s Office buried the wrong body following a $20,000 funeral service for a son who was still alive. The misidentification had been caused by an issue with the fingerprint identifying system and using an old ID card. Now, a jury has ruled in favor of the man’s family.
On May 6, 2017, Frankie Kerrigan received a call that his son Frankie had passed away. He evidently had been found behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley, California. An autopsy report states the individual found was roughly “5 feet 10 inches and 175 pounds.” His age was “between 50 and 60 years old.” The man’s “eye color (blue), hair color (brown), and dental issues (missing upper and lower teeth)” all match up. However, these stats were based on the old photo and it was the wrong body. Robinson Ivory, 19 at the time and working at Verizon, found the body. He stated the dead man didn’t look like Kerrigan’s more current photos.
Court records indicate, “Frankie, 57, suffers from mental illness and was living on the streets.” His father was notified by the Coroner’s Office that “a body discovered in Fountain Valley had been positively identified as Frankie through the use of fingerprints.”
Eleven days after the service was held, Frankie showed up at the home of family friends. They had just been pallbearers, helping to move his casket from the service to the plot next to Frankie’s mother. They were stunned to see him and discovered some time later that another man, John Dickens, had been buried there instead.
At the time of the initial discovery that the wrong body had been buried, Sheriff’s Department Lt. Lane Lagaret said, “Upon being made aware that an error was made was, the staff at the Coroner Division have worked diligently to rectify the situation. The department has opened an internal investigation into the misidentification of the decedent to determine the cause of the error and will look at the policy to determine if changes need to be made.” He added, “The Coroner Division is attempting to locate and notify family. Until his family can be found, or all efforts are exhausted, his body will remain interred at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery.”
The family alleged the incident caused “emotional stress and mental anguish.” A jury ultimately compensated them $1.5 million.
The senior Frank Kerrigan and his sister Carole Meikle, along with their attorney, James Desimone, spoke the Orange County Courthouse afterwards.
“It feels like we’ve been vindicated,” Frank Kerrigan said. “It’s been a long hard fight.”
Meikle said the whole situation is “unbelievable.”
“This was a systematic failure within the O.C. Coroner’s Office because they did not have any training or procedure for individuals in their office to understand how their fingerprint system worked or even to confirm that a body was found with fingerprints,” added Desimone. “At the end of the day, this jury had to find that Orange County acted negligently, and we won on every cause of action, which included intentional misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation.”
Kerrigan’s family has been able to transfer Dickens’ remains to the care of his loved ones.