A Williamstown woman is suing a Camden funeral home, saying it failed to embalm her brother's body before it started to decompose, forcing her family to cremate him instead of having the open-casket service they had planned.
Ashkeya Pratt-Williams said her family wanted an open-casket viewing for her brother, John Ross Pratt, 44, who died of a heart attack on Sept. 17. That day, the family contracted with Carl Miller Funeral Home to embalm Pratt's body for a service scheduled for Sept. 29, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Superior Court in Camden by attorney Conrad J. Benedetto.
The family was so outraged that Pratt, known as a "gentle giant" who stood 6-foot-7, did not have the service they wanted that a cousin, Jeri Vaughn McBride, made a video in front of the funeral home, at Eighth Street and Carl Miller Boulevard (the former Van Hook Street), and posted it on YouTube urging others to stop using the funeral home.
"It's the worst, to lose your loved one," Pratt-Williams said Wednesday. "Then you can't say goodbye the way you want to."
Benedetto called the case "heart-wrenching" because the family trusted the Miller home, having been to services there in the past.
Although Pratt, a diabetic, had health problems, his sister said, he sounded like his usual happy self the night before he died as he talked about football with her son. Pratt grew up in Williamstown and lived with his uncle on Boyd Street in Camden, where he was known for doing landscaping and odd jobs around the neighborhood.
When the uncle returned home from work the following afternoon, he found that Pratt had died.
In her lawsuit, Pratt-Williams alleges that she instructed the funeral home to embalm her brother's body. On Sept. 19, she went to the funeral home to discuss more details and asked to see her brother's body. She said she was told that no one was there to assist and that the family could return to see the body the next day. But instead, the lawsuit alleges, the manager, Pamela Miller Dabney, called Pratt-Williams and said there was a problem.
The body, she was told, had been stored in a garage, where it had started to decompose, the lawsuit said.
Miller Dabney suggested cremation and a closed casket, the suit said. The family decided to use a different funeral home, where they were told again the body had to be cremated because of decomposition, Pratt-Williams said.
On Wednesday, Miller Dabney said she could not comment on the allegations because the funeral home had not been served with the lawsuit.
In the suit, Pratt-Williams alleges that the funeral home was negligent and careless, and deprived the family of a "peaceful and respectful final goodbye with her brother." She said she has suffered severe emotional harm as a consequence. The suit also alleges breach of contract. It said the family was not permitted to see the body on Sept. 19 because the remains had not been properly stored in a temperature-controlled facility.
The funeral home "misrepresented, deceived, defrauded, knowingly concealed, suppressed and/or omitted" information that prevented the family from properly embalming the body, according to the lawsuit.