Wife horrified with funeral home's treatment of her husband's body | KOB 4
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Wife horrified with funeral home's treatment of her husband's body

Tessa Mentus
March 13, 2018 10:25 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- There is no pain like the loss of a loved one. The days after a death are a blur of emotions, and people trust funeral homes to give an opportunity to say the final goodbyes in the best way possible.

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Unfortunately, a local woman said that trust was betrayed. She's telling a difficult story about what happened to her husband. She hopes no one else has to live through the same heartbreak she endured.

"Such a gentleman, you know?" said Lee Ann McCracken, recalling the day that New Mexico State Police Officer Mark McCracken caught her eye. "Stood up, waited for me to sit down. I mean, just a gentleman in every sense of the word, and we just started talking and it was just ... I just knew."

He would be the love of her life -- her husband for nearly 21 years. Lee Ann and Mark were a team over those next two decades. They raised two boys in Rio Rancho and became exactly what each other needed.

"Where he was more willing to let people or situations walk over him, or hurt him, I’d be like 'No.' I became the protector," she said. "It was like that through our entire marriage, we had each other's back."

This past fall, the McCrackens had a new era in their life together to be excited about. Their youngest son had just gone to college. They had just sold their home and were looking to downsize.

But one night in early September, Lee Ann came home with that feeling that something wasn't right. She called out Mark's name, but he never answered.

"I rounded the landing to go up the second set of stairs, and there he was laying at the top of the stairs," she said, crying. "And I grabbed his toe and I said, "Mark, are you ok? What are you doing?"

Mark, at 55 years old, was gone. Lee Ann later learned he died of a heart condition. Family and friends supported Lee Ann and the boys during those foggy hours of despair. But Lee Ann was about to get a jolt into her nightmare when she went to arrange Mark's funeral at the Daniels Family Funeral Services location in Rio Rancho.

Lee Ann wanted to go through the casketing process with Mark. She wanted to dress him and handle any necessary cosmetics. She showed up at the funeral home when she was supposed to.

An hour and a half later, Lee Ann said Mark’s body had arrived from the funeral home's care center in northeast Albuquerque. But there was no peace for Lee Ann when she finally saw her husband.

"We were going to go into the viewing room so we could dress him and all that in there. And so they bring him in there, and I walk in, and I see his face, and I literally became unglued, to say the least."

Mark's face was covered with injuries. He had a 2- to 3-inch deep gash through his right eyebrow and into his eye, along with an indentation that ran from his eyebrow down to his mouth on the right side of his face. Lee Ann thought for a moment this couldn't be her husband.

"Nobody was saying anything, and I lifted up the blanket and I looked at his foot and I recognized his toenails," she said. "But what happened?"

Lee Ann said the funeral director immediately called the care center to find out what happened to Mark's face.

"I heard the woman on the phone say, 'Well why did you let her see him like that?" she recalled. "Are you kidding me?"

"You don't treat somebody's loved one like that," she said. "Where's the respect for a body?"

Lee Ann said she met with the funeral director five days after Mark's service. The director claimed an internal investigation found the employee transporting Mark from the care center to the Rio Rancho location either swerved to miss a car or took a hard right turn, causing Mark’s body to fall off the gurney.

Lee Ann said she was told the investigation revealed the employee never stopped to check on Mark or reposition and secure him. She also claims Mark wasn't covered in anything while he was transported -- no sheet, no blanket, no funeral covering.

"If they would have said, 'You know, Mrs. McCracken, we had an accident coming up here. Your husband's face was damaged. We need to correct it,' I would have been more understanding because I get things happen," she said. "But there was no ownership."

Lee Ann said the funeral director asked what she would like done. She had three requests.

  • The transport employee be fired.
  • The funeral home review its policies and procedures.
  • She wanted a refund.

She claims the funeral director spoke with his management and told her the employee would be fired and they would review their policies, but there would be no refund.

KOB tried to contact Daniels Family Funeral Services four times in the last month to confirm those actions were taken and to give them a chance to respond to Lee Ann's claims. The funeral director said he would forward the request to Mark Shalz, the vice president of operations.

After no one called back, KOB was told to call CEO Brad Green, who is based in Houston. KOB is still waiting for a response.

"It's frustrating, but it makes me really sad because here I am at my most vulnerable time relying on someone to do a really good job for me and they don't," Lee Ann said. "They botch it and then don't even own their responsibility in it. And they're trying to cover it up."

Lee Ann isn't settling for what happened to Mark. She's filed a complaint with the New Mexico Board of Funeral Services. She wants more accountability and to make sure no other New Mexican family has to experience this nightmare.

She's doing her best to protect her protector.

"I kind of failed him in a way because I couldn’t protect him from that," she said. "But maybe now by bringing this out in the open, that it can at least bring an awareness.

"He didn't deserve. Nobody deserves that, but he especially didn't."

Lee Ann’s claim was scheduled to go before the state Board of Funeral Services on Monday, March 12. Lee Ann said she was told the complaint was tabled while the board collected more information. KOB contacted the communications staff for that board to confirm that information but has yet to hear back.

Credits

Tessa Mentus

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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