Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lorenzen Wright Dead at 34

Relatives and friends of Lorenzen Wright gathered Wednesday and grieved for the former NBA player who has been missing for 10 days, as police investigated the discovery of a man's body outside of Memphis.

Wright's uncle, Curtis Wright, told the Associated Press that police called the player's father, Herb Wright, Wednesday afternoon with the news he had died.

Sgt. Alyssa Macon-Moore of the Memphis Police Department wrote in an e-mail to the AP that police were investigating the death of an unidentified man beside a wooded area about 15 miles south of downtown Memphis. Asked if the man was Wright, she wrote they could not confirm the victim's identity Wednesday night.

The family issued a statement through a cousin of Lorenzen Wright, Camella Logan: "Lorenzen's family has come together to mourn his loss and honor his legacy. We appreciate your thoughts, prayers and condolences as they are comforting at this very difficult time. Additionally, we ask that you please respect our privacy as we try to cope with his sudden loss."

Wright's mother, Deborah Marion, arrived at the scene Wednesday night with a handful of family members. She crossed the crime scene tape and tried to talk to police when she was told to move back. She sat in a TV van before returning to the tape. Two officers then let her through.

The distraught Marion then started running down the road toward the crime scene before being stopped by an officer. She spoke with officers, then walked back past reporters without speaking straight to a van.

The 34-year-old Wright was last seen July 18 when he was expected to fly out of town. His family filed a missing person report July 22.

Wright played 13 years in the NBA with five different teams: the Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and most recently the Cleveland Cavaliers with 17 games in the 2008-09 season. Wright left the University of Memphis early for the NBA, and the Clippers made him a lottery pick with the No. 7 selection overall.

He averaged 8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 778 career games.

By nightfall, nearly 200 people had visited the road blocked off by police while TV news helicopters showed investigators scouring the grounds for evidence. Police brought in a mobile command center that further blocked off the scene.

Former NBA star Penny Hardaway, who played at Memphis two years before Wright, said he heard the news from a friend and went to the scene near where the body was found.

"I cried. The emotions hit me immediately. It's just sad because we lost a good person and a brother," Hardaway said.

Elliot Perry, another friend and former Memphis player, also was at the scene. Wendy Wilson, who once worked as Wright's personal assistant, also was there and said Wright often used the road police had cordoned off as a shortcut to his mother's house.

"He was a good person. He did not deserve to die this way. God is not pleased with this," Wilson said.


Funeral News - Prepaid Funeral Plans Up in Smoke

The Missouri attorney general’s office Tuesday issued recommendations for those who purchased prepaid funeral plans from a now-closed Independence funeral home.

Consumers who purchased a plan from Mount Washington Forever Funeral Home will need to make new arrangements at another funeral home, according to the office.

Last week, two Kansas City area funeral homes firms, Charter Funerals and Speaks Family Legacy Chapels, offered to issue possible credits to those customers.

Anyone still paying on such plans purchased through Mount Washington Forever, the attorney general release said, “should stop making payments.”

Those holding contracts purchased through National Prearranged Services are advised to contact a court-appointed receiver in Texas overseeing the liquidation of that company. People who have been making payments since May 2008 might not have received credit for those payments.

“Unfortunately, there is little recourse for such consumers at this time,” the release read.

Information is available at 800-334-3851.

Consumers are asked to file complaints with the attorney general’s office by calling 800-392-8222.

The receiver has taken legal action to collect on money that National Prearranged Services, Mount Washington Forever and related companies failed to place into trust.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Presley Autopsy Tools Pulled from Auction

Tools rumored to have been used in Elvis Presley’s autopsy have been yanked from auction because of difficulties in proving their authenticity.

According to Reuters, the collection was supposed to go on sale with other Elvis memorabilia on Aug. 12 and expected to bring in about $14,000. The questioned items, listed with Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago, included a toe tag, forceps, gloves, syringes, cosmetics and makeup applicators.

Presley died in 1977 at age 42 from drug-related heart trouble. Memorabilia and music sales of the perennially popular legend earned $55 million last year.

Reuters reported that a now-retired embalmer for Memphis Funeral Home said he took the items after using them in performing work on the rock and roll legend’s body. But another funeral home employee said the items were cleaned and reused on other bodies. The funeral home, which does not intend to sue, also claimed ownership of the property.


Federal Laws Help When Comparing Funeral Costs

A funeral is one of the steepest expenses we'll face, but many important decisions are made emotionally rather than with a close eye on costs.

"It doesn't matter how much you spend, it doesn't make a person any less dead. It doesn't mean you love them any more or less, and it isn't going to bring them back," said Josh Slo cum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Vermont-based nonprofit advocacy group.

He said funerals should be treated like any other consumer transaction by comparing costs and services. Charges at different funeral homes in the same metropolitan area can vary by thousands of dollars, so it pays to shop around.

A federal law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission makes comparison shopping much easier today than it was a generation ago.

The law, called the funeral rule, requires funeral directors to provide an itemized list of services and their costs. It was designed to ease the pressure on consumers to buy bundled services, some of which they may not need.

The rule also stopped funeral directors from forcing consumers to buy a casket from them, often at inflated prices. Funeral homes must accept a casket or urn purchased elsewhere.

In recent years, competition has increased with online and discount retailers offering consumers more choices than ever. Caskets, for example, can be bought from Wal-Mart and Costco. It's all good for consumers, who for decades had little choice but to buy from their local funeral home, said Matthew Contor, an antitrust attorney and partner with the New York-based law firm Constantine Cannon.

"If we allow for competition to flourish rather than for it to be stunted, consumers will have the opportunity to get the most quality and least cost for funeral products and services," he said.

A cautionary note about buying caskets or funeral supplies from an online vendor: Make sure the casket can be delivered to the funeral home on time, said James Olson, funeral director at the Lippert-Olson Funeral Home in Sheboygan, Wis. Although funeral homes must comply with the FTC rules, it's important to know that online vendors and cemeteries do not, said Olson, who also is a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association, a trade group.

That could soon change, however.

A bill, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, would require the FTC to regulate other funeral- services vendors, including cemeteries.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Auction of Elvis Autopsy Tools

If you're an Elvis fan and have a strong stomach, mark your calendar for Aug. 12, when Chicago's Leslie Hindman Auctioneers will auction autopsy instruments used to embalm and prepare the King's body for a private viewing the morning after his death.

The senior embalmer at the Memphis Funeral Home at the time of Presley's death saved the items for the last 33 years and decided to sell them after he realized someone might value them, said Mary Williams, director of books and manuscripts for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. Presley died Aug. 16, 1977, in the bathroom of his Graceland estate of an irregular heartbeat.

The collection also includes a toe tag marked "John Doe," used after an eager fan stole the original from Presley's body during the chaos at the hospital where he was taken, as well as the coffin shipping invoice and the hanger to Presley's suit and tie.

The auction starts at noon with rare books, and the Elvis memorabilia will follow, at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, 1338 W. Lake St.

The items will be offered in two lots valued at up to $6,000 and $8,000 each.

An auction in October 2009 resulted in a clump of Elvis' hair going for $15,000; a red ultrasuede shirt worn by Elvis in publicity photos garnering a $34,000 bid, and an inscribed record sleeve selling for $10,370.


Cremation Memorial Reef Site in Texas

Eternal Reefs Adds New

Memorial Reef Site

The new Galveston, Texas location makes the twentieth approved site for the company to offer an eco-friendly alternative to spreading the ashes of a loved one: participation in the preparation and placement of an individually-designed memorial reef ball that contributes to a new ecosystem.

An Eternal Reefs “memorial reef” looks like a huge, hollow concrete ball with Swiss cheese holes specially designed to entice fish and other forms of sea life into the reef, building new habitats in and around the uneven structure. Eternal Reefs takes cremated remains and incorporates them into an environmentally safe cast cement mixture weighing between 600 pounds (2’ high x 4’ wide) and 4500 pounds (4’ high x 6’ wide).

Eternal Reefs encourages family members and friends to become involved in creating their loved one’s memorial reef. If they wish, family members can mix the concrete and remains and have the opportunity to personalize the Eternal Reef with handprints, written messages and other memorabilia in the damp concrete. The entire Eternal Reefs process is designed to be a positive and healing experience for the families and the sea.

“While many people who participate in our programs have been vitally connected to the ocean their entire life, we get to memorialize people who just like the idea of making a meaningful contribution to the health of the planet and to benefit future generations,” George Frankel, Eternal Reefs CEO, said. “We find it provides great joy for everyone involved to know their loved one will be surrounded by marine life and to know they leave behind an environmentally-sustainable, living legacy.”

Memorial reefs have become a solution for the “shelf people” crisis across the country. An astonishing 45 percent of families that have chosen cremation still have their loved ones remains sitting on a shelf or in a closet. Thousands of individuals pass away unexpectedly and don’t leave a will, leaving the next generation to handle their remains. Eternal Reefs offers a final resting place for these individuals.
With every Memorial Reef, the executor of the estate receives two memorial certificates that identify the longitude and latitude of the memorials, which are marked with bronze plaques.

Loved ones can participate in every step of the Memorial Reef process and gather for the reef casting, viewing and placement ceremonies. Throughout the year, families and friends often return to the memorial reef site to dive, fish or visit by boat.

The new reef site off Galveston, Texas will have its first memorial service and placement November 12, 2010 at Barr’s Reef, 11 miles off the water break in Galveston Bay. It is anticipated the families of about 15 people will participate in the activities.

About Eternal Reefs Inc.
Eternal Reefs, Inc is an Atlanta-based company that provides creative environmentally enhancing means to memorialize the cremated remains of a loved one. The company incorporates cremated remains into a concrete mixture used to cast artificial reef formations. The artificial reefs are dedicated as permanent memorials while also bolstering natural coastal reef formations. Since 1998, the company has placed more than 300 Memorial Reefs in 20 locations off the coasts of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia, substantially increasing the ocean’s diminishing reef systems. Memorial reefs can only go in properly permitted locations by the US Government. Contact Eternal Reefs Inc.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mummified Body Found Under Southern California Home

EL MONTE, Calif. -- Los Angeles County authorities say a mummified body found under an empty home may be the remains of a man who disappeared five years ago.

County coroner's Capt. John Kades says there's no sign of foul play.

Construction workers remodeling a back house in El Monte found the remains Wednesday in a crawl space.

He says family and friends reported the man was known to hide or hang out in enclosed spaces such as closets.

Kades says a pillow was found with the remains and it appears the man may have been resting in the crawl space when he died of natural causes.

Kades says the body hasn't been officially identified but is believed to be the missing man.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dad, Will You Walk me Down the Isle?

My father passed away in January of 2008. That day and the days, months and years that followed, I knew I lost a lot of things. I lost the man who taught me the importance of hard work. The right way to paint a house. The best way to tell a joke. I also lost the one person who was so much like me and understood me that it pains me to think I'll never be able to share a special moment with him again. What I would give to just be able to tell him about a great accomplishment or to just share a funny story.

When I think about the things that my Dad has missed in my life over the past few years it brings tears to my eyes. I bought a foreclosed home, gutted it and totally remodeled it with my boyfriend. Everyday at the new house I'd remark how wonderful it would be if Dad could see the new floors going in, how the kitchen was coming together, or even at the garden I planted. Somehow, I hope that he can see it and that he is watching over me.

Having recently become engaged, I am thankful that my Dad was able to meet my boyfriend before he passed away. I think it was important for my Dad to know that I would be ok. He'd want to know that, although I think I don't need it, I would have someone to take care of me. I guess that's just how Dad's are. So, in the last few months of my father's life, my boyfriend got to know my Dad and I could tell, my Dad liked him.

After our engagement, I was thrilled that I finally found the one man who embodied many of the qualities I loved about my father. My fiancé can build and fix anything. He is a hard worker and he loves me. What is better than that? But, even in all of my happiness of our engagement, one thing lingers in my mind. My Dad won't be there to walk me down the isle.

For weeks I would think about my wedding day and wonder how something so great could bring me such pain knowing Dad wouldn't be there. But then I discovered a company in Pennsylvania called DNA2Diamonds. I am so thankful that I did.

DNA2Diamonds can create a genuine diamond from either a lock of hair or cremated ashes. At first my finance and I thought it would be wonderful to combine a lock of his hair and a lock of my hair to make our diamond. But, then he came up with the best and most wonderful idea. He suggested to create my diamond for my engagement ring from my Dad's ashes. Knowing how important it would have been to have my Dad with me not only on my special day, but with me every day, my fiancé's wonderful suggestion really touched me. Once my diamond is complete, it will be set in my engagement ring so my Dad can still walk with me down the aisle.

Although my Dad won't be there in person, he will be there in spirit and will be right there with me forever in my diamond engagement ring. My ring will be the most precious and priceless possession I own. It will forever represent the bond my fiancé and I have in life and the connection I have with my Dad, even after he's gone.

Decomposed Body Found at Shuttered NY Funeral Home

BATH, N.Y. - Authorities say a man's decomposed body has been found inside a sealed casket at an upstate New York funeral home that was shut down two months ago.

The Steuben (stoo-BEHN') County Sheriff's Office says an auctioneer found the body Tuesday while at the Seager-Jones Funeral Home in Bath to catalog items to be auctioned. The business and another funeral home owned by David Seager in nearby Savona were closed in May when officials realized they weren't registered with the state.

Authorities say the cremated remains of 12 others were found at the Bath funeral home.

Authorities began an investigation in April after receiving a complaint that a body had been improperly stored at the Savona business before burial.

Seager was charged last month with scheme to defraud and violating the law concerning timely burial of cadavers.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner Dead at 80

George Steinbrenner, who rebuilt the New York Yankees into a sports empire with a mix of bluster and big bucks that polarized fans all across America, died Tuesday. He had just celebrated his 80th birthday July 4.

Steinbrenner had a heart attack, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and died at about 6:30 a.m, a person close to the owner told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not disclosed those details.

His death was the second in three days to rock the Yankees. Bob Sheppard, the team's revered public address announcer from 1951-07, died Sunday at 99.

For more than 30 years, Steinbrenner lived up to his billing as "the Boss," a nickname he earned and clearly enjoyed as he ruled with an iron fist. He was known for feuds, clashing with Yankees great Yogi Berra and hiring manager Billy Martin five times while repeatedly clashing with him.

But as his health declined, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business.

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died Tuesday morning, after reportedly suffering a massive heart attack in his Florida home Monday night. Under his ownership, the Yankees have appeared in the World Series 11 times, winning seven titles, including the 2009 championship.

Steinbrenner was in fragile health for years, resulting in fewer public appearances and pronouncements. Yet dressed in his trademark navy blue blazer and white turtleneck, he was the model of success: The Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants after his reign began in 1973.

He appeared at the new Yankee Stadium just four times: for the opener in April 2009, for the first two games of last year's World Series and for this year's homer opener, when captain Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his seventh World Series ring.

"He was very emotional," said Hal Steinbrenner, his father's successor as managing general partner. Till the end, Steinbrenner demanded championships. He barbed Joe Torre during the 2007 AL playoffs, then let the popular manager leave after another loss in the opening round. The team responded last year by winning another title.

Steinbrenner had fainted at a memorial service for NFL star Otto Graham in 2003, appeared weak in 2006 at the groundbreaking for the new Yankee Stadium and later became ill while watching his granddaughter in a college play. Still, the former Big Ten football coach took umbrage when others questioned his fitness.

"No, I did not have a stroke. I am not ill. I work out daily," Steinbrenner said in 2006. "I'd like to see people who are saying that to come down here and do the workout that I do."

When Steinbrenner headed a group that bought the team on Jan. 3, 1973, he promised absentee ownership. But it didn't turn out that way.

Steinbrenner not only clashed with Berra for more than a decade but paid to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, deriding the future Hall of Famer as "Mr. May" in 1985 after poor performances. Berra's wife, Carmen, said Tuesday her husband was at a golf event in Pennsylvania and was expected to comment later in the day.

While he liked to appear stern, Steinbrenner could poke fun at himself. He hosted "Saturday Night Live," clowned with Martin in a commercial and chuckled at his impersonation on "Seinfeld."

He gave millions to charity, often with one stipulation, that no one be told who made the donation.

The Yankees paid off for him, too, with their value increasing more than 100-fold from the $8.7 million net price his group paid in January 1973. He freely spent his money, shelling out huge amounts for Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez, Torre and others in hopes of yet another title.

"Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing," Steinbrenner was fond of saying. "Breathing first, winning next."

All along, he envisioned himself as a true Yankee Doodle Dandy. It was fitting: George Michael Steinbrenner III was born on the Fourth of July, in 1930.

Added up, he joined the likes of Al Davis, Charlie O. Finley, Bill Veeck, George Halas, Jack Kent Cooke and Jerry Jones as the most recognized team owners in history.

Steinbrenner's sporting interests extended beyond baseball.

He was an assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue in the 1950s and was part of the group that bought the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League in the 1960s.

He was a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1989-96 and entered six horses in the Kentucky Derby, failing to win with Steve's Friend (1977), Eternal Prince (1985), Diligence (1996), Concerto (1997), Blue Burner (2002) and the 2005 favorite, Bellamy Road.

To many, though, the Yankees and Steinbrenner were synonymous.

His fans applauded his win-at-all-costs style. His detractors blamed him for spiraling salaries and wrecking baseball's competitive balance.

Steinbrenner never managed a game, as Ted Turner once did when he owned the Atlanta Braves, but he controlled everything else. When he thought the club's parking lot was too crowded, Steinbrenner stood on the pavement -- albeit behind a van, out of sight -- and had a guard personally check every driver's credential.

Steinbrenner made no apologies for bombast and behavior, even when it cost him dearly.

He served two long suspensions: He was banned for 2 1/2 years for paying self-described gambler Howie Spira to dig up negative information about Winfield, and for 15 months following a guilty plea in federal court for conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions during the Watergate era.

"I haven't always done a good job, and I haven't always been successful," Steinbrenner said in 2005. "But I know that I have tried."


Funeral Home Offers Eco-Friendly Burials

Going green is taking on new meaning with a more environmentally conscious approach to life's last rite of passage.

Greening a funeral really means doing things the old fashioned way, says Larry Click, funeral director for Click Funeral Homes in Lenoir City and Farragut, the state's first certified funeral home through the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally conscious burial practices.

Click is among approximately 300 funeral homes, cemeteries and related businesses across the country that have received Green Burial Council certification.

To obtain certification, funeral homes must offer sustainable options to their customers, including refrigeration or nontoxic embalming and eco-friendly caskets and urns - Click offers natural, wood caskets made in nearby Bean Station - as well as options such as at-home viewings.

"I think this really is just going back to the way we used to do things," Click said. "I've been in a funeral home my whole life. Used to, when somebody would pass away we'd go put a tent up in the cemetery because people were digging graves by hand. My daddy told me that when we first started, the cloth-covered caskets were all they had back then."

Click learned of environmentally friendly funerals a few years ago, and because the family-owned company already performs a variety of funerals, he thought it would be good to add green services to the list of options.

A green burial can include anything from delivering a shrouded body directly into the ground from the hospital to performing a more traditional kind of funeral with sustainable products. In addition to the wood coffins, made without any type of finish, Click offers shrouds made from natural materials; guest books and note cards made of post-consumer recycled paper and natural body washes as an alternative to embalming.

Click also has developed relationships with several cemeteries in order to allow burials without vault or casket. And a family can choose both to dig the grave and cover the casket themselves - although Click said that option has less to do with environmental considerations than creating a certain type of experience for friends and family of the deceased.

Going green isn't a huge leap for Click, he said, because the funeral home already is accustomed to nontraditional types of East Tennessee funerals, including Jewish services, with a simple wooden casket and no embalming; and Muslim services, with no casket and no vault. Cremation also has become more common - Click estimates 90 percent of customers from the large retirement community of Tellico Village in Loudon pick this alternative.

"I think we're just exposed to so many different types of services, it's given us some insight into these things," he said.

Going green can be cheaper than traditional burial as well. A traditional funeral, including a church or funeral home chapel service, costs about $6,000, Click said. A direct burial, with natural casket, costs about $3,000. In the green funerals Click has conducted so far, families have elected to hold graveside services only, although Click said he expects that may change as more people opt to go with a natural alternative. If a family chooses to bury their loved one in simply a shroud, direct burial costs about $1,900 - the cost of the cemetery plot and grave-digging excluded - equivalent to the price of cremation.

The funeral home has conducted several green funerals so far, he said.

"I think (customers) want something more simple, and some people want something more natural," he said. "They just like this idea of going back to the earth."

It's not yet a booming business, however, Click noted.

"I think it'll be something that's going to evolve slowly," he said.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Historic Funeral Home Deemed Unsafe

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. - A New Bedford funeral home, severely damaged in a fire late last month, is declared to be a safety threat.

The New Bedford Standard Times reports the roof of the former Frates Funeral Home must be repaired immediately, or the building will need to be torn down.

Engineers made the declaration after conducting an inspection of the historic building, which was built in 1908.

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang said the city hopes the building can be preserved, but the estimated $1 million price tag is a concern.

A decision on the funeral home's future is expected by the end of the week.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Funeral Burials Going Green

Going green is the rage these days and going out green is catching up.

Green burials are throwbacks to the days when people were interred in shrouds or in pine boxes. Very biodegradable. Very good for the environment. Very inexpensive.

Green burials aren't offered everywhere, but more and more funeral directors are greening up, industry officials say.

Basically the posthumous preparation involves not using toxic chemicals such as embalming fluids or other hazardous materials. Non-biodegradable materials, such as metal caskets or concrete burial vaults, are not used in green burials, either. At true green burials, the grave is dug by hand, not a piece of heavy equipment burning fossil fuels.

According to the New Mexico-based Green Burials Council, such services are a return to basics.

"Green burial uses less energy and creates less waste than conventional burial," the council's website says. "It's essentially the way most of humanity cared for its dead for thousands of years up until the late 19th century."

Joe Sehee, Green Burials Council executive director, cited recent polls showing that green burials are increasing across the nation, although some pockets - including Florida - appear to be lagging behind the trend.

An AARP poll in 2007 showed that just over 20 percent of those surveyed favored green burials, Sehee said.

"This is not a fringe market," Sehee said. Two factors figure into the mix, he said: legacy and environmental conservation. The baby boomer generation is responsible for the green burial upsurge, he said.

"This is the generation that gave us Earth Day," he said. "It has transformed cultural milestones. It doesn't do things the way their parents did them."

Florida is a place people retire to late in life. They may have burial plots in other states, and transporting an un-embalmed body over great distances poses an obstacle to green burials, he said.

As other states begin to accept the green burial idea - bringing the nation in line with most of the world - green burials one day will be the norm, Sehee said.

"We are trying to move this into the mainstream," he said.

Concerns about un-embalmed bodies and groundwater pollution are unfounded, he said. More pollution is caused by toxic paint on caskets or vaults that leak embalming fluids into the ground, he said.

Plus, he said, green burials are cheaper; maybe not as cheap as cremation, but a lot less expensive than conventional funerals in which bodies are embalmed and buried in pricey metal caskets.

Consequently, some funeral homes are resistant to the idea, Sehee said. Old-school funeral directors see green burials as a threat to their income of green.

"The knee-jerk reaction is that this is disruptive to their business, that it will diminish their conventional offerings," he said. "We say they need to prepare to serve these families or someone else will."

Existing cemeteries need only a conditional use permit to allow green burials, he said. Elsewhere in the nation, green burials are taking place in nature preserves and large tracts of land in a natural state. In Florida, there is only one such tract, and that's in the northern part of the state, said Bill Schichtel, funeral director at Heath Funeral Chapel in Lakeland, one of a handful of local funeral homes that offer the service.

Green burials have not quite caught on, Schichtel said.

The main obstacle is a lack of fully green cemeteries in the area, he said. A cemetery in Dunedin offers green burial plots, but only on a portion of the overall tract, he said. The nearest fully green cemetery is in the Panhandle, on a nature preserve, he said.

Once land is designated locally as a green cemetery, call for those services will pick up, Schichtel said.

"We're getting ready," he said. "There's not been a call for it yet, it's still in the early stages."

He said he decided to offer the service after a family friend interviewed him about green burials for a college term paper.

"I thought, maybe we should be more proactive," he said. "We just started doing it just a couple of months, maybe three four months ago."

While the cost of green burials may be lower than a typical funeral, it is offset by other factors, he said.

In a true green burial, he said, no motorized equipment is used, so graves are dug by hand.

"To be truly green," he said, "you wouldn't have a backhoe with gasoline digging the grave."


Funeral Home Pre Need Contract Argument

When Julia Lukasik, 91, planned her funeral 15 years ago, she did it down to the final detail, including how much it would cost.

The details, including an oak casket with a lining that matched the color of a dress she plans to wear, were included in a contract with Church and Chapel Funeral Home in New Berlin. The $5,151 cost, she was told, was guaranteed.

Turns out it wasn't.

At his mother's request a few weeks ago, Michael Lukasik called Church and Chapel Funeral Home to check on the arrangements. The company said they could find no record of the contract.

That was the first glitch in an eye-opening saga, in which the company initially told the family it could not honor all the prices, but backed off after contacted by Public Investigator and a state consumer protection agency. The company ultimately agreed to honor the prices one of its employees had guaranteed in 1995, but insisted on payment now.

The unusual case, which involved questions of what establishes a contract, is a lesson for consumers and businesses alike on understanding responsibilities of such agreements.

At issue was paperwork drawn up in 1995, when Julia Lukasik met with Church and Chapel funeral director Kevin Fleischfresser. Her son, Michael, and daughter, Mary, were with her. At the time, pre-planning of funerals was a new practice, and some of the procedures followed today were not yet established.

Michael Lukasik said his mother wanted to pay at that time, but Fleischfresser said that wasn't necessary and assured them the price was guaranteed.

The contract Fleischfresser and Julia Lukasik signed is the same document that Church and Chapel would have used at the time had someone died. It indicates payment must be made within 1 ½ months after the service. Above the total on the document, Fleischfresser noted a $200 discount because he was a personal friend of Julia's son, Michael.

That is the document Michael Lukasik sent when the funeral home said it had no record of the agreement.

Legality Illegal decision

Lukasik then received a call from Ted Larsen, owner of Church and Chapel Funeral Home. Larsen said because Fleischfresser, who had died in a motorcycle accident, left no record of the agreement, they were unable to honor it because no money had been paid when the paperwork was signed.

When pre-planning a funeral, there are two aspects involved - the details of the service, such as Julia Lukasik's chosen casket, and the payment. Customers are not required to pre-pay, but if they don't, prices may increase.

In Wisconsin, when someone wants to pre-pay, the estimated amount at the time of planning must be put aside with a third party, such as a bank trust or in an insurance policy. When the person dies, that money - and any growth in interest - pays for the funeral.

Church and Chapel's policy today is to write up a worksheet, not a contract, that states the amount set aside, plus whatever interest it has gained, will cover all costs, except for a death notice and opening the grave. If the money comes up short, the funeral home makes up the difference, Larsen said.

Other funeral homes may have different policies.

Frustrated and puzzled, Michael Lukasik acknowledged that Fleischfresser may have made a mistake, but feels Church and Chapel should have stood by the contract - a deal is a deal.

"It's just a shame that a person enters into a contract and finds it's no longer legitimate," Lukasik said.

But the contract is legitimate, said Ralph Anzivino, a professor of contract law at the Marquette University Law School. Despite what Church and Chapel's practices are today, the contract is valid and would hold up in court, he said.

"That may be (Church and Chapel's) business decision, but that's not the legal one," Anzivino said, calling the situation an "open and shut" case.

Anzivino said the fact Fleischfresser is no longer with the company doesn't matter because the contract was signed on behalf of the company, not an individual employee.

Honoring an agreement

During the original phone conversation with Michael Lukasik, Larsen offered to honor the 1995 costs for funeral services, such as staffing and embalming, but not those for merchandise, including the oak casket Julia wanted, the biggest ticket item. In 1995 that casket cost $2,995. Today, it is more than $5,000, nearly the entire 1995 funeral's cost. Larsen said he felt the compromise was a fair offer, especially because he had no idea what commitment Fleischfresser had made in his conversation with the Lukasiks.

He noted that in 1995 the company was young and still experiencing a learning curve. "Just like every business, they get better with time," said Larsen, whose company has an "A" rating with the Better Business Bureau.

After the Journal Sentinel contacted Larsen and the Wisconsin Division of Trade & Consumer Protection, Larsen changed his position and agreed to uphold the prices in the contract. He said he would do that if Julia Lukasik put the full 1995 amount, $5,151, into a third-party trust or insurance policy in the coming days.

Larsen's proposal would match the price, but with pre-payment as a stipulation. However, it would not match the contract Fleischfresser signed on behalf of Church and Chapel, which stated the amount was to be paid within 1 ½ months after the funeral.

Julia Lukasik turned down Larsen's offer.

"There was some concern dealing with Church and Chapel after what they did," Michael Lukasik said of his mother's concerns.

Instead, Lukasik spoke with Jim Sass, a family friend, at Max A. Sass & Sons Funeral Home.

Sass agreed to honor all the prices listed on the 1995 contract between Julia Lukasik and Church and Chapel Funeral Home. They have put an agreement in writing and won't have to pay until the time of the funeral.

Tips for consumers

Janet Jenkins, an administrator with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, advises:

Shop around: "The high cost of funerals warrants careful shopping. Use price lists from funeral homes to choose exactly the services and products you want."

Review your wishes: "Be sure to discuss your wishes and any arrangements you have made with survivors. Keep all related papers in a safe, accessible place. It is also a good idea to periodically review your arrangements to make sure they reflect your current situation and preferences."

Consider your options: "Inflation may make the cost of a pre-arranged funeral greater than a trust balance, even with accrued interest. Consumers should consider other options for investing money and setting up provisions for its use at the time of death."


Monday, July 5, 2010

Man Accused of Sexually Assaulting Teen in Funeral Home Basement

A southwest Iowa man who faces sex abuse charges was arrested Thursday night in Council Bluffs. A warrant was issued in Mills County Thursday, for 55-year-old Stephen Beattie, of Malvern who was wanted in connection with an investigation into charges he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old male this past April in the basement of the Mansfield-Hertz Funeral Home in Malvern.

Beattie was being held Thursday night in the Mills County Jail on a felony charge of third-degree sexual abuse, along with two serious misdemeanor charges, including lascivious acts with a minor, and indecent exposure. A criminal complaint filed against Beattie alleges he committed sex acts on the unidentified teen just two days before the funeral home’s director, Karl Hertz, committed suicide, on April 16th.

The complaint also implicated Hertz, by saying he participated in the sex acts. The teen told investigators he had worked for Hertz for nearly three years, and had engaged in similar activities with him for seven months. The juvenile alleged that on a dozen occasions, Hertz showed him pornographic images on the computer in the funeral home’s basement.

The 62-year-old committed suicide before authorities had a chance to act on a search warrant for his home and business. Had he lived, Hertz would have faced similar charges resulting from the current case, as well as for similar sexual activity involving yet another male juvenile.


Jam Made from Princess Diana's Hair Up for Sale

The royal hair? Jam made from what its maker claims is one of Princess Diana's hairs is up for sale at an art exhibition in London. The preserve, called "occult jam," is part of a surrealist art show at London's Barbican Art Gallery that includes exhibits by Salvador Dali and Rene Margritte. The 5-pound-a-jar ($7.60) jam is both art and food, Sam Bompas, who founded catering company Bompas and Parr, said Sunday.

He said the preserve is made by infusing a tiny speck of the late princess of Wales' hair with gin, which is then combined with milk and sugar to create a product with a taste resembling condensed milk.

The hair was bought on eBay for $10 from a U.S. dealer who collects what he says is celebrity hair and sells it in extremely tiny parts.

The art show's organizers asked his company to come up with a response in food to the exhibition's surrealist theme. Bompas said he decided to make the bizarre product to provoke people into thinking about food marketing and how language enhances the everyday eating experience, he said.

"We thought about it and the most mundane food of all is jam. So we made it a surreal object," he said.

Self-styled "food architects," past projects included a banquet consisting entirely of gelatine molds shaped like architectural landmarks.

In another, they gave audiences at a screening of Peter Greenaway's film "The cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" scratch-and-sniff cards that evoked smells from key scenes in the movie.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Man's Ashes to be Spread by Firewords

The family of a Florida man has chosen a unique way to spread his ashes: Sending them off in fireworks during a lakeside Fourth of July celebration.

Tom Moore died unexpectedly in May, and his remains were cremated. The central Florida man always enjoyed watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, and so his family approached a fireworks company about spreading his ashes during the celebration. Santore & Sons agreed to accommodate the family's request, and began packing Moore's ashes into shells on Tuesday. A pyrotechnic tribute to Moore will be held on Sunday.