Wrong body buried in Augusta cemetery

GBI sends wrong body back from Atlanta crime lab

Bianca Cain Johnson/ Staff photo
Grave site in Hillcrest Cemetery on Thursday
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A mixup at the GBI crime lab in Atlanta caused an Augusta area family to bury the wrong man.

Lowe  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Lowe

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.

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cumulus
26737
Points
cumulus 02/19/15 - 05:24 am
8
1
After having to deal with the

After having to deal with the incompetent, head-up-butt nincompoops at the Georgia Income Tax Office, this absolutely comes as no surprise to me. My sympathies go out to the families of both men: how awful that they are trying to mourn the loss of loved ones, but have to deal with a government worker's mistake instead. The devil is ALWAYS in the details, folks....try to remember that, government workers.

J. R. Hasty
58
Points
J. R. Hasty 02/19/15 - 06:35 am
8
1
The good side

This story does not have to be all about the negative. This poor man Mr. Caldwell got a few minutes of fame in a borrowed tomb. In a few days he will come out. If he is saved he will rise and ascend into Heaven. Jesus paved the way. Borrowed tomb and all.

Riverman1
166771
Points
Riverman1 02/19/15 - 08:24 am
5
2
In Addition To Rising From the Tomb...

Plus the family will end up a hundred thousand dollars or so richer after the state settles instead of going to court.

SimpleGirl
34457
Points
SimpleGirl 02/19/15 - 08:32 am
7
1
I saw this on the news. Mr.

I saw this on the news. Mr. Lowe's brother broke down and cried. Very sad this happened. I can't imagine how I would feel if this happened to me and my family. My sympathies and prayers go out the the Lowe family.

AFjoe
28178
Points
AFjoe 02/19/15 - 09:03 am
8
0
It happens at birth &

it happens in death....mixups that is.

Little Lamb
63301
Points
Little Lamb 02/19/15 - 09:35 am
4
1
Sensationalism

From the story:

“I’ve worked at the Coroner’s Office for 10 years and never in my life have I seen this happen,” Burke County Coroner Susan Salemi said.

Sure, it didn't happen in Burke County in the last ten years, but you can bet your bippy that it has happened hundreds if not thousands of times in the history of the GBI crime lab. Most of the mix-ups were undiscovered or undisclosed.

This crime lab error points out something that could give ammunition to Austin Rhodes’ call for improved lab testing. Since we now know that the GBI crime lab Atlanta office is fallible; then it makes sense to allow private medical labs in Augusta to become certified by the GBI to perform toxicological and other post-mortem tests so that results become available sooner than is currently the norm.

There is no reason that the GBI lab and the GBI lab only must do the tests. Private labs should be allowed to help.

scooter2762
88934
Points
scooter2762 02/19/15 - 09:50 am
3
0
How devastating for families,

How devastating for families, hopefully this situation is fixed immediately and these families can put their loved ones to rest.

historylover
78499
Points
historylover 02/19/15 - 09:52 am
1
0
LL

You are so correct. Not to mention it would greatly decrease the time it now takes to get the vital results back in the many deaths that are a result of crime.

RMSHEFF
37179
Points
RMSHEFF 02/19/15 - 05:58 pm
1
1
Give them a raise and a

Give them a raise and a bonus....

aninsider
148
Points
aninsider 02/19/15 - 10:17 am
4
0
Perhaps they are overworked?

I think this just helps to point out the fact that the folks at the lab in Decatur are seriously overworked and overwhelmed since so many of the regional labs have closed. A simple raise in pay, though well deserved, will not help ease the case load. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to resolve the real problem.

aninsider
148
Points
aninsider 02/19/15 - 10:24 am
4
1
Oh yeah...

and the GBI is paying for all of this - NOT - the taxpayers - You and I - are paying for it.

GiantsAllDay
24539
Points
GiantsAllDay 02/19/15 - 11:32 am
2
0
Pain and suffering lawsuit

Pain and suffering lawsuit suit is on its way.

Riverman1
166771
Points
Riverman1 02/19/15 - 11:33 am
4
0
Problem With Local Testing

There is a problem with establishing local post-mortem testing. It takes a pathologist trained in autopsies to obtain proper samples. You just can't draw blood from a corpse and get accurate results. It takes a trained pathologist. Credentialing a lab is expensive. Hiring a pathologist to be in charge and obtain samples is almost impossible as we see from the inability to hire someone to take over the Augusta lab now.

Little Lamb
63301
Points
Little Lamb 02/19/15 - 11:46 am
5
0
Pathologist

Augusta is crawling with pathologists. Sure, they already have full-time jobs with Grooo and/or the other hospitals; but they could be credentialed and do the sampling work as freelance, paid on a contract basis. Yes, the Georgia taxpayers would have to pay for the pathologists to sample and the lab techs to analyze the samples; but we are already paying for the work in Atlanta now.

As I see it, it would be little or no difference in cost, and the turnaround time would be much improved.

Riverman1
166771
Points
Riverman1 02/19/15 - 12:06 pm
4
0
LL, you have pathologists who

LL, you have pathologists who look at slides all day, but these are not forensic patholgists. They are required for autopsies and obtaining samples from corpses. In addition a facility is needed with staffing and so on. This thing is far more complicated than most realize.

What I would do is approach MCG and see how much it would cost for them to do it and that may require the county paying for a forensic pathologist working for MCG and supporting their lab. Possibly if the pathologist was an MCG employee involved in other work, he could be lured to Augusta.

Sweet son
18022
Points
Sweet son 02/19/15 - 12:18 pm
1
0
I'm with AFJoe.

Stuff happens in all aspects of life.

Sad for the Lowe family; but a law suit? Money won't erase 'pain and suffering.'

Little Lamb
63301
Points
Little Lamb 02/19/15 - 12:42 pm
1
1
Contract Pathologist

RM, you are way more knowledgeable than I am in this medical area. But what I envision is not hiring a full-time pathologist, but rather using an existing pathologist to obtain whatever certification is necessary and then being on call to collect whatever forensic samples are necessary. He could be paid on a piece-work basis only when his services are necessary. We don't have hundreds and hundreds of bodies in a year that need to be sampled; probably just a few dozen a year.

Fiat_Lux
23966
Points
Fiat_Lux 02/19/15 - 01:09 pm
6
0
I really hope this family doesn't try to fund their retirement

because people who are slammed beyond belief made an unfortunate MISTAKE, for which their agency immediately took total responsibility and is rectifying the error with respect, humility, sincere apologies and whatever it takes financially to get these remains into their proper locations with sensitivity and dignity.

I grow weary of people--hopefully not to include the Lowe clan--who don't seem to understand that sometimes things happen in life that nobody intended or wanted, things that don't include malice or even, often enough, incompetence. It's time for people in adult bodies to move past the mentality of preschoolers when it comes to the wide-ranging vicissitudes of life on planet Earth.

jdsgirl63
4647
Points
jdsgirl63 02/19/15 - 01:54 pm
6
1
Was it just me or did Salemi

Was it just me or did Salemi spend a lot of time covering her butt and making sure everyone knew it wasn't Burke Counties fault? I felt that her comments were very unprofessional "I have no idea how the GBI messed up so bad", "I called the Lowe family and wanted them to know Burke County had nothing to do with the mistake". I think all that just stoked the families pain. A simple "I'm terribly sorry this happened and we'll make it right" would suffice.

Little Lamb
63301
Points
Little Lamb 02/19/15 - 01:59 pm
2
0
Comments

Thank you for your comments, Fiat Lux and jdsgirl. I agree with both of you.

aninsider
148
Points
aninsider 02/19/15 - 02:38 pm
1
0
Not too long ago

They have been denying that they have a problem with an overload. Instead of being honest about it, they deny what they tell the coroners when confronted by the media. Perhaps that is why Salemi "covered her posterior". The coroners are doing their jobs, but they run up against a wall when the lab doesn't do their part or messes up on their part. And yes, they did own up to it and are offering to pay for it - once again I point our that it is with OUR money. It would have been very hard for them to blame this on the coroner.

scooter2762
88934
Points
scooter2762 02/19/15 - 07:29 pm
1
0
I recently watched this on

I recently watched this on channel 12 news. This is a far bigger problem than just this one case.... someone needs to fix this problem.

scooter2762
88934
Points
scooter2762 02/19/15 - 08:46 pm
1
0
For the families

For the families involved....please just make this right.

corgimom
55849
Points
corgimom 02/19/15 - 11:32 pm
1
0
People are human and they

People are human and they make mistakes.

corgimom
55849
Points
corgimom 02/19/15 - 11:32 pm
0
0
If they wanted to cover it

If they wanted to cover it up, they could've just not said anything and nobody would know.

It takes integrity to say "We messed up."

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