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Utah funeral home sends widow wrong ashes

Published April 25, 2012 8:08 am

Court • New Mexico woman suing Utah businesses for burial negligence and violation of the Deceptive Sales Practices Act.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The trauma of losing her husband in a plane crash in the Oquirrh Mountains remained fresh as Marilynn Flynn prepared for his memorial service a year later.

Michael Wayne Flynn, 59, of Alamogordo, N. M., was a crew member on a converted military plane that crashed in heavy fog on April 25, 2009, killing him and two other men.

The group, employed by a private fire fighting company, had been en route from Missoula, Mont., to New Mexico when the plane failed to clear a pass and slammed into a mountainside in rural Tooele County.

Rescuer's recovered Flynn's body from the wreckage of the plane, a twin-propeller P2V Neptune, which was scattered over about 100 yards near Stockton Pass. After an examination by the Utah Medical Examiner, Flynn's body was transferred to McDougal Funeral Home in Taylorsville, where his remains were cremated.

Marilynn Flynn later received what she thought were her husband's ashes in an urn labeled with his name.

She didn't open the urn until nearly a year later, as she prepared for her husband's funeral, to be held on April 25, 2010.

That's when she discovered the urn she'd been given contained the cremains of someone else.

She peered in the container to see a dental bridge fragment, a dental crown and three fragments of dental porcelain — objects that didn't belong to Michael Flynn, she realized.

The funeral home's mistake has now led Marilynn Flynn to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against McDougal Funeral Home and Independent Professional Services, a crematory business, alleging burial negligence, contract violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of the Deceptive Sales Practices Act.

Flynn's lawsuit claims the defendants were negligent "to perform the cremation procedure with skill and care pursuant to the operation policies necessary to minimize the potential for human error," court documents state. The suit states the companies failed to properly handle Michael Flynn's body and didn't train staff properly on how to handle cremains.

Flynn, who is being represented by New Mexico attorneys John D. Wheeler and Gail Wade Brownfield and J. Mark Edwards in Salt Lake City, is seeking at least $75,000 in damages. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell.

Wheeler said his client was initially hopeful that she'd received the cremains of another victim in the plane crash by mistake. But the dental fragments weren't a match to any of the other victims, he said. She'll probably never know the final resting place of her late husband's ashes, Wheeler said.

"This has devastated her. She has not been the same since," Wheeler said. "She's hoping to identify what went wrong here and to correct it in a meaningful way so this won't happen to other individuals."

A representative from Independent Professional Services in Taylorsville was not available for comment Tuesday.

A man who answered the phone at McDougal Funeral Home on Tuesday but declined to identify himself, said the funeral home won't be commenting on the lawsuit because it has not yet learned about the facts of the case.

The same funeral home found itself entangled in other legal troubles recently, after Spencer Scott McDougal, 54, a director at the home, was charged in federal court with felony production of child pornography and enticement for illegal sexual activity.

McDougal pleaded not guilty to the charges in February. His four-day jury trial is scheduled to start on July 9 before U.S. District Judge David Nuffer.

According to charging documents, McDougal adopted the persona of "James Zupo Marsden" on a fake Facebook profile and claimed he was a 17 year old living in Idaho who had previously lived in West Jordan.

McDougal allegedly contacted a teenaged girl through the website in January and forged a relationship. The two communicated through Facebook and email, the documents state.

After several months of communication, the girl took nude photos of herself with a cell phone and sent them to McDougal, believing he was a teen, the documents state.

Meanwhile, a local church leader contacted the Division of Child and Family Services in May to report that an anonymous person had observed child pornography on McDougal's home computer. One of the videos showed a minor walking around a bedroom in a towel, the documents state.

The Taylorsville Police Department began investigating the case and McDougal admitted during a June interview that he purchased a "nanny cam" that he hid in places where juveniles changed clothing or were naked, the documents state. The FBI later assisted with the case.

If convicted, McDougal faces a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for the production of pornography charge alone, and additional time for the enticement charge.

In Flynn's case, attorneys appeared in court this week. Another hearing date has not yet been set.

mrogers@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mrogers_trib