A mixup at the GBI crime lab in Atlanta caused an Augusta area family to bury the wrong man.
A graveside service for Johnny Morgan Lowe III was held Dec. 8, but officials confirmed Wednesday that Lowe’s body was not in the casket but remains at the GBI lab.
According to Burke County Coroner Susan Salemi, Lowe was never returned to Augusta after his autopsy, while another body – that of Louie Caldwell of Clayton County – was buried in his place.
“I’ve worked at the Coroner’s Office for 10 years and never in my life have I seen this happen,” Salemi said.
“The GBI has taken full financial responsibility, but Mr. Lowe’s family is rightfully devastated. I have no idea how the GBI messed up so bad.”
Salemi was notified of the mistake Feb. 10, when she received a phone call from GBI Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kris Sperry.
“Dr. Sperry called me and asked, ‘Are you sitting down?’ ” Salemi said. “Then he told me they made a huge mistake and were still in possession of Mr. Lowe’s body.”
Lowe, 51, of Blythe, died Dec. 1 from injuries to his neck after a fall.
Lowe’s memorial service was held Dec. 8 at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Augusta, where the family held a closed-casket burial.
“Mr. Lowe’s family saw him the day he died,” Salemi said. “Due to a number of reasons, including the autopsy results, they decided that a closed casket with a photo would be best. … That decision is not uncommon at all.”
According to Salemi, the body of Louie Caldwell will be disinterred and taken to a Clayton County pauper’s grave.
Lowe’s body will be brought to Augusta.
All the expenses will be taken care of by the GBI, according to GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang.
“I called the Lowe family when I found out and just told them how sorry I was,” Salemi said. “I wanted them to know that Burke County had nothing to do with the mistake.”
Salemi said she did not know when Caldwell would be disinterred or when Lowe will be laid to rest.