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Pasco stabbing victim awaits burial his family can't afford

DADE CITY — Charles Haag was stabbed to death, rolled in a tarp and dumped in the woods north of San Antonio. Detectives found him in early January. He had been there a month.

The wait for his final resting place had just begun.

Mr. Haag's body remains among the living, in a mortuary in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala. His relatives arranged for his burial last month. When the bill came, they balked.

"This gentleman has not reached his final destination," said John Brown, an assistant manager with the Tuscaloosa Memorial Chapel. "He still has not been laid to rest."

• • •

A high school dropout, discharged as a teenager from the Army National Guard, Mr. Haag followed odd jobs across Texas and Alabama, carving trees and stamping steel. He got addicted to crack cocaine. He slept in shelters and jail cells. He wrote often to his mother in Tuscaloosa, apologizing for the man he had become.

In early December, detectives said, Mr. Haag's roommate in Dade City, Justin Naber, repeatedly stabbed him and threw him away. He was 32. Naber, 24, fled to Pembroke Pines in South Florida, where he was charged with murder. Pasco deputies didn't say why they thought he did it.

The Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner's office conducted an autopsy. The body was taken to a mortuary shipping agency, embalmed with formaldehyde and loaded into a wooden "combo container" lined with plastic. He flew to Birmingham. A hearse drove him an hour from the airstrip to the funeral home in northeast Tuscaloosa.

The family made arrangements on Jan. 12. They chose a brown Batesville Libra casket, made of poplar hardwood and ivory crepe fabric. They chose a monument at the Tuscaloosa Memorial Park, next to his stepfather. The family was told the flight, funeral and grave would cost $15,815.

Mr. Haag's sisters delayed the service, Brown said, because Mr. Haag's mother, Teresa Hughes, was in the hospital with heart problems. They asked about cheaper options, like cremation. After a few weeks, they stopped answering calls altogether, Brown said.

Brown was at a loss at what to do. In his 20 years in the mortuary business, he had never had a family leave a funeral in limbo.

The process usually takes no longer than a week, Brown said. "This is almost a month."

• • •

The Times talked to Mr. Haag's sister, Mary White, 23, after Brown began looking for help. She said the family never wanted this to happen. The cost was just too much.

Hughes, a widow, was in and out of Druid City Medical Center with a blood clot in her heart. White, a single mother, was paying for nursing school and dealing with a divorce.

Their only hope, she said, rested on the sale of Hughes' John Deere tractor. Hughes paid $20,000 for it two years ago to harvest hay on a field she never bought. She wanted to sell it for $15,000.

"It's pretty much the only way to get money for his funeral," White said. "The cost to bury him was gonna be about $15,000, and to cremate him would be $8,000. That's money we don't have."

White and her 3-year-old daughter, Naudia, live with Hughes. White said her sister, Angela Haag, was arranging for the funeral. Haag didn't return calls this week. Her voicemail greeting said, "Unless it's a dire emergency, don't leave a message. I don't wanna talk to nobody."

Florida pays for funeral expenses, as well as lost wages and mental health counseling, for families of victims of violent crimes. A spokeswoman in Tallahassee said the fund has paid for families across state lines. Mr. Haag's family likely would have fit the criteria. White said she had never heard of it.

Brown doesn't know what he'll do if the family never returns. The family-owned home may ask the local medical examiner's office for help with a pauper's funeral.

Until then, Mr. Haag's body will wait in the funeral home, in his poplar casket with crepe fabric. He is double-wrapped in body bags. He doesn't have a suit.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 869-6244 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Pasco stabbing victim awaits burial his family can't afford 02/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 8:34pm]
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