Originally created 08/14/04

Family sues over body condition

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Instead of fond memories of a father who taught his sons to drive a big-rig truck and danced with his daughters to the tunes of a hi-fi radio, Wiley Wilcox's family remembers the stench of rotting flesh at his funeral.

The 71-year-old Jacksonville man who wore his ball cap sideways and pressed an unlit cigar between his lips died in his sleep of natural causes in 2001. His wife and children filed a lawsuit this week against the city-contracted indigent funeral home that held his body for five days in August as it decomposed in the morgue.

The lawsuit contends Mr. Wilcox's body was not properly preserved either by refrigeration or embalming. Less than a week after his death, the body was too badly decomposed for the open-casket burial the family requested.

Harris Brown, attorney for Lewis-Smith Mortuary, said his client denies all allegations.

"My dad didn't deserve what he got," Syrophine Wilcox said. "I try to get it out of my head, but I can't."

Mr. Wilcox and other family members visited the funeral home to bring clothes for his father's viewing and discovered his father's rotting corpse. Because the body was badly decomposed, the embalmer couldn't properly preserve it for the funeral, the family's attorney, Chris Shakib, said.

The body was wrapped in a "disaster bag" and placed in an unlined casket. Bishop John E. Shingles, the presiding minister, told media the smell during the funeral was potent enough to make him sick. He left before the graveside services.

Fluid dripped from the casket and stained the rug underneath, and pallbearers said they heard fluid sloshing about as they carried Mr. Wilcox's body from the funeral chapel to the grave.

"It was just a ghastly experience for the whole family," Mr. Shakib said. "It's a tough time when your father passes away, but when you have to go through a horror show like this, it's 1,000 times worse."


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