ABC12 Investigates: Claims of mishandling remains at Flint funeral home

Published: Nov. 4, 2016 at 2:22 PM EDT
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(11/08/16) - Decomposing bodies left in a garage for months, blood stained casket pillows and a horrible odor. That's what a fellow funeral director says he witnessed inside of a Flint funeral home.

ABC12 Investigates the serious claims against Swanson’s Funeral Home.

A frantic family searching for answers started asking questions about Swanson’s to Lansing area funeral home director Darin Vickers.

The family had second thoughts about using Swanson's. Even though for 50 years, they've been known throughout the state for low cost cremations.

“The idea of performing a cremations for $695 is almost impossible,” Vickers said.

When the family sent Vickers to pick up their loved one's remains in Flint, he wasn’t prepared for what he was about to see.

“When I walked in the door of Swason's, you had this very definite odor of decomposition, death basically, and that is a smell you never forget,” Vickers said.

He's been in the mortuary business for a decade, but couldn't believe what he was seeing.

“Probably one of the most disturbing things were the puddles of fluid. Whether it was bodily fluid or whatever in the prep room and they told me to watch my step,” Vickers said.

He says decomposing bodies in cardboard cremation boxes were stacked on top of each other in a garage.

“Keeping bodies in a unrefrigerated hot garage from basically May to December, I just don't really think it’s the best idea,” Vickers said.

He says he noticed fly strips hanging from the ceiling and blood-stained casket pillows laying in the hallway.

“I've been in slaughterhouses that were cleaner than what I saw there,” Vickers said.

It bothered him so much, he filed a complaint with the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). ABC12 News also confirmed additional complaints have been filed by other people with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In the small town of Leslie, where Vickers runs his funeral home, people started learning about the horror that he’d seen.

“My first thought was my our sister because I'm thinking, 'Did they take care of her?'” said Jackie Smith.

Smith says Swanson's took care of his sister's cremation this past summer.

“You think of a funeral director or a funeral home as taking care of your loved ones, this is the advertisement they use,” Smith said.

Now, they're second guessing everything. Smith says they want to know for sure the remains they have are really their sisters.

“We are going to see if we can do a DNA on that. No way I trust them now,” Smith said.

Swanson’s attorney, Mike Cox, released this statement to ABC12 News:

“For 50 years, the Swanson Funeral Home in Flint has provided solace and dignity to those who have passed and their loved ones. These allegations are just that - allegations. We fully intend to address all the concerns of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory affairs in the proper forum. In the meantime, Swanson’s will focus on doing what we have done for 2 generations - providing comfort to Flint families as they deal with the loss of a loved one.”