Lawsuit: Funeral home cremated remains before autopsy

Published: Sep. 23, 2011 at 9:01 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2011 at 3:25 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) The estate of a woman family members say was cremated before an autopsy could be completed is now suing the Myrtle Beach Funeral Home and the Horry County Coroner's Office.

In the lawsuit obtained by WMBF News Friday, Holly McGowan, representative of the estate of Joan Ashcraft filed the lawsuit against the Myrtle Beach Funeral Home, Horry County Coroner Robert Edge and Horry County Deputy Coroner Chris Burroughs.

According to the lawsuit, Joan Ashcraft was found unresponsive in her home on March 4, 2010 and was then admitted to the hospital. McGowan alleges the doctors confirmed her suspicions that her mother, Ashcraft, had been overmedicated.

Ashcraft was discharged from the hospital and returned to her home, however, she was found unclothed and dead in her home on March 15, 2010.

Burroughs was the acting coroner at the time and responded to the home. Ashcraft's body was then transported to the Myrtle Beach Funeral Home.

According to the lawsuit, McGowan asked Burroughs about an autopsy, because she was concerned about overmedication and medical malpractice. Burroughs allegedly told McGowan that the only time the county pays for an autopsy is when there is a suspicious death, however, if Ashcraft's family wanted one, they would have to pay between $5,000 and $6,000.

McGowan said she told Burroughs she wasn't sure at the time, but later all siblings allegedly agreed and would pay for it.

The lawsuit said McGowan told Myrtle Beach Funeral Home they shouldn't proceed with a cremation of Ashcraft's remains before they heard back from her, and officials allegedly told McGowan her mother's remains wouldn't be cremated until after the autopsy.

At that time, McGowan said she told Burroughs the cremation should not take place until he heard from them, and the family then scheduled an appointment with the coroner's office to make arrangements for the autopsy.

According to the lawsuit, between that time and the time of the meeting, the funeral home cremated Ashcraft's remains and the family did not find out until the picked up the death certificate. The lawsuit further alleges Burroughs gave the funeral home permission to cremate Ashcraft's remains before speaking with McGowan about the autopsy.

McGowan has requested a jury trial and is asking for a sum to be determined by the jury, as well as actual damages, punitive damages in a reasonable amount for costs of action and further relief as the court sees proper.

[To view a copy of the lawsuit, click here (PDF)]

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