Authorities have reported a hearse was stolen with a body inside outside of a church and involved in a high-speed chase that ended only after James Juarez, 25, crashed the vehicle. Luckily, officers discovered the body undisturbed and took the car thief into custody after the crash. According to the police report, the events began when Juarez stole the black Lincoln Navigator from outside St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in East Pasadena. This occurred after an unidentified mortuary attendant brought a different body inside, leaving the vehicle outside.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on social media to return the body. “Out of all the bad decisions you have made, at least make one good one & bring back the deceased person & casket inside the Navigator,” the department tweeted in a highly visible post. Juarez was booked on suspicion of grand theft auto.
A witness who knew of the crime reported seeing the vehicle leaving the church and was following behind it when Los Angeles police officers caught up and pursued the hearse on local streets and onto the busy freeway. At least one officer was involved in the crash. “No one was seriously injured,” police said.
Therese Burch said the Navigator was carrying the body of her 93-year-old mother. “Of course, the first thing you think of is, ‘Oh, that poor family. What if that was my mom?’ And, then you find out it is,” Burch said. A hairdresser, she had planned to do her deceased mother’s hair for the funeral. She couldn’t believe it when she received that call, and either could the funeral director.
“I did not handle the truth very well,” said owner of Chapman Funeral Home, Terry Harmon. “I’ve never been through something like this. I am truly, truly sorry for not handling that very professionally.”
Burch said she and her family accepted his apology. “That’s good enough for us,” Burch said. “Forgiveness goes a long-ways.”
In July of last year, someone stole a hearse from a funeral home in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Staff reported they believed the vehicle was locked at the time of the incident, but investigators said it was not, adding, “This was a crime of opportunity.”
“Doesn’t seem like they [the thieves] had to break in. It seems like they [staff] left something unlocked. What we’re thinking anyway,” Lt. Ben Allen, Green Bay Police Department stated.
The Cadillac hearse was found abandoned, and there wasn’t a body inside when it was stolen. Allen had indicated the hearse was only one of the car thefts that had been occurring in the area at the time.
“Really on the west side of town. Along with this one, there were also three other stolen autos on the west side over that same time period,” Allen explained. “Lock everything. If you don’t want to lock your car, make sure you take your keys out.”
Javier Gray, 22, of Fayetteville, was eventually arrested for the crime and charged with larceny of a motor vehicle, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, and breaking and entering.