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Burial likely ended dispute over remains of Ute man

Published November 16, 2012 10:48 am

Body removed from mortuary after father, tribe insisted on burial; mom wanted cremation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

In the case of the late Teddy Serawop, what is buried will likely stay buried.

Serawop, a 32-year-old member of the Northern Ute Indian Tribe, was buried in traditional tribal style Wednesday at the Randlett Cemetery in Uintah County. He had died on Nov. 5 of a suspected heart attack, having been found collapsed inside the Salt Lake City home of friends.

Immediately after his death, however, the fate of Serawop's remains came into dispute between his Ute father, his tribe, and Serawop's mother, Fonda Ross of Vernal, who is not a member of the tribe. The mother insisted Serawop wanted cremation, but her ex-husband's family and the tribe insisted on traditional burial rites.

On Tuesday, the Hullinger Mortuary in Roosevelt confirmed, Serawop's Ute family removed his body from the funeral home without permission, claiming a tribal court had ruled custody of Serawop's body rightfully belonged to his Ute family.

Fonda Ross could not be reached, but her current husband, Roy Ross, said it was uncertain what, if anything, can be done at this point. "It's just ended up a big mess," he said, noting that some reports that he had adopted Serawop were incorrect.

He referred further questions to his attorney, Anthony Famulary. The lawyer acknowledged it was highly unlikely his clients would seek to disinter Serawop's remains for cremation, and it did not appear any criminal prosecution was likely, either.

Indeed, Roosevelt Police Chief Rick Harrison said his office has suspended further investigation of the body removal incident, saying it was, for now at least, considered a "civil" issue between the Rosses and the Ute Tribe.

Famulary said his clients had not decided on a course of action, though they may, at some point, seek to file a document stating their distress over how Serawop's remains were taken from Roosevelt and eventually handled.

Specifically, Famulary said, the Rosses may want to go on record with the tribal court that they were not officially notified of the court's hearing on the body custody issue, nor its decision — though the attorney said the tribe has insisted notice was given.

Meanwhile, the Fort Duchesne-based Ute Tribe remained mum Friday about the issue. Chairwoman Irene Cuch did not return calls seeking comment, and the tribal attorney's office likewise did not respond to requests for comment.

remims@sltrib.com