Family sues in Yuba County over unburied ashes
A Marysville funeral home kept the ashes of an Air Force veteran and his wife in cardboard boxes for up to 14 years, according to a lawsuit filed in Yuba County Superior Court.
Family members of the late Harvey and Millicent Sell accused Lipp & Sullivan Funeral Directors of storing the boxes "unburied, ignored and dishonored" at their D Street office since 1997, when retired Sgt. Harvey Sell died.
"That this could happen twice, and to the same family, raises questions about how many other people have been kept in the bowels of that business," said Jim Sweeney, the attorney representing the Sell family, on Wednesday in a telephone interview.
Filed June 6, the lawsuit seeks damages for negligence, emotional distress, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duties.
Damages are to be determined at trial.
Funeral home directors Daniel and Katherine Gray declined an interview on Wednesday.
"It's absolutely not true," Katherine Gray said.
The family had been told their loved ones were buried in a military cemetery in Gustine. In both death certificates, obtained by the Appeal-Democrat, the funeral home lists the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery as the couple's final resting place.
"I'm not saying it was fraudulent, but it was certainly inaccurate," Sweeney said.
Millicent Sell passed away in 2006. But when the Sells' daughter, Peggy Sell-Homack, an Arizona resident, visited the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in 2011, the funeral home admitted the couple was never buried, according to the lawsuit.
Their remains were in the funeral home.
Had the Sells' family not tried to visit the cemetery, the truth may never have been known, according to the suit.
The funeral home could not provide credible proof the boxed ashes were in fact the Sells, the lawsuit states.
Daniel "Gray offered a paper card and a metal tag which he alleged were identification of the ashes as those of the Sells. To this day, it is unknown whether Gray's assertion is true," the suit states.
The suit states that doubt "as to whether those ashes were human or not" added to the family's pain and said claims that nobody noticed for 14 year are "incredibly non-credible."
The ashes were buried last year at the San Joaquin cemetery by the family in a ceremony the family claims was colored with the knowledge that "the Sells human remains had been simply stuck in a file drawer for years and years."
"Mrs. Homack still struggles emotionally with it — it's a very sad situation," Sweeney said. "And it's the fact that it didn't just happen once, but twice to the same family."
Sweeney said the family had tried to settle out of court with the funeral home without success.
A status conference is set for October.
CONTACT Rob Parsons at email@example.com or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat.