A Phoenix family is suing a funeral home for accidentally cremating their matriarch after specifically being told by relatives they wanted to host an elaborate homegoing service and paid for a casket.
In a 13-page lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on Monday, Feb. 27, Carl Randall Stone, the family’s lawyer, states Eastlake Mortuary, the funeral home, was not only negligent in caring for Joann Stephen’s remains but was in breach of contract, causing emotional distress to the family.
Stephens’ son Jason Glenn said that because of the establishment’s actions, he has had no peace and feels like he broke a promise to his mother.
The Miller Family Group, LLC, the entity that owns and operates the Eastlake Mortuary, is named as the defendant in the lawsuit.
Glenn recalled his last conversations with his 86-year-old mother, saying he would take care of the funeral arrangements per her instructions. It was special to him because she had struggled with dementia, a condition that suspends memory and sometimes coherent thoughts.
But this time, Stephens told her son exactly what she wanted, local station KPNX reported.
“She would say, ‘I want a beautiful funeral.’ The casket, the color scheme. All of it was going to be to her liking because this is something that we talked to her about,” said Glenn.
“I just rubbed her hand and said ‘Mom, I’m going to see you one last time, get you all dolled up.’ She loved lipstick. ‘Get you lipstick and makeup and a beautiful gown for you. You’re gonna be beautiful. You’re gonna get that funeral that you always told us you wanted,'” said Jason Glenn, according to Fox 10.
The next morning, Glenn and family selected the Eastlake Mortuary to handle the final services. They went into the establishment, told them their plans, and paid for her caskets and burial arrangements.
Later that day, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, the mother of six would transition.
The next Stephens’ family received a call from the funeral director, asking them to come to him to talk about the arrangements. They had no clue about the horrible mistake the workers at the funeral home made in regard to his mother.
“When we got there, he said, ‘I regret to have to inform you that your mom was cremated last night,'” Glenn recalled. “No explanation. He said the two people that deal with this part of the business would be reprimanded, and that’s all we got.”
According to the son, family members from out of state had flown in for the service. So, a decision was made to hold a memorial celebration with photographs of Stephens around the room. After the ceremony, the family released balloons in her honor. This celebration was much different than the open-casket funeral she wanted, which included the woman whose family called “Jo Jo” in a beautiful gown.
After the memorial arrangements were set in place, Eastlake Mortuary gave the family an urn with Stephens’ ashes. Glenn and other relatives say they do not trust the funeral home, saying, “that’s just a mistake that can’t happen.” The family is also unsure if the remains in the urn even belong to Stephens.
“I looked at that urn, and I said if they got the remains mixed up and sent the wrong one to the crematorium, then are these the ashes of her or the one that should have gotten cremated?” Glenn said.
According to the son, who has been speaking out on behalf of his siblings, administrators at Eastlake have apologized and refunded the money paid for the original service arrangements.
In addition to the lawsuit, they plan to launch an investigation to figure out how the body mix-up could have happened. Stone and his legal team have begun the deposition process to help their case as the devastated family prepares for the lawsuit.
Stone believes there is a case.
“Once we looked at the contract and everything that happened, it was a shock to us. I’ve heard of a case like this happening in Texas, but that’s it,” Stone told KPNX.