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Suspend funeral director, board says

Abbey Parklawn's funeral director should lose his license for six months because the Dunedin business gave the wrong cremated remains to a family, the state funeral directors board recently recommended.

The state also seeks sanctions against the funeral home itself, which until August held a Pinellas County contract to bury the poor. The county canceled the contract after learning the funeral home had accidentally cremated a deceased county client.

Abbey Parklawn also has been sued in recent months by eight families who say the funeral home botched their loved ones' funerals, burials or cremations.

The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation's case against Abbey Parklawn and funeral director Michael Walsh began last fall when a former employee from the funeral home approached authorities with the cremated remains of Dalana Davis, a 40-year-old Gulfport woman who died in April 2000.

The problem was, months earlier, Abbey Parklawn had given Davis' husband, Art Davis, a box of cremated remains, telling him they were his wife's. Davis said he cannot recall whether the box he picked up had his wife's name on it.

But the second box found at Abbey Parklawn had her name and date of cremation on the outside and her identification tag inside. Davis said he is confident the second box contains his wife's remains.

Now Davis does not know whose remains he initially received, placed in a cedar urn and presented at two memorial services for his wife.

"It should have never happened," said Davis, 50, a St. Petersburg Times employee who dispatches newspaper delivery trucks. "I'm very angry at Abbey Parklawn."

Abbey Parklawn is under state receivership and will be sold. Receiver James Stephens declined to comment on the state case, except to say that Walsh did not personally make a mistake.

Davis said the Abbey Parklawn staff had spent a few minutes finding his wife's remains when he picked them up April 27, 2000, but he had no real cause for concern at the time.

In May, he took what he thought were his wife's remains to Wichita, Kan., for a memorial service with her family. Soon after, Davis had another memorial service with the remains at Abercrombie Park in St. Petersburg.

Then Davis fulfilled his wife's final wish to be buried at sea by scattering the remains about 12 miles off St. Pete Beach.

In September, Davis got a call from state officials telling him that he may have received the wrong remains.

About the end of June 2000, someone at Abbey Parklawn found the box of remains with Mrs. Davis' name. After researching the matter, a clerk at the funeral home realized there was a problem, Davis said, and brought the remains to authorities in September.

Davis finally learned the details of what happened this spring when he met with the attorney handling the case for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Charles Tunnicliff, who declined to comment for this story.

In June, the state filed an administrative complaint against Walsh and last week presented its case against Walsh to the Florida Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, which rules on disciplinary actions against funeral directors.

Walsh and the state had struck an agreement that called for him to serve a six-month probation and pay a $1,000 fine.

But the board rejected the agreement and recommended that Walsh's license be suspended for six months, that he pay the maximum fine of $5,000 and take 20 hours of continuing education classes, said Lonnie Parizek, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The board is allowing the two sides to continue to negotiate.

"The board didn't think it was harsh enough," she said. "At this point, they've decided to continue negotiations."

Board member John P. Deakins, a Dunnellon consultant for the funeral industry, said such mistakes should not happen if a funeral home has an effective reporting and tracking system.

"There's no excuse for this," Deakins said.

The board is expected to take up Walsh's case again in February. Also in February, the board will consider penalizing the funeral home in the same case.

In the meantime, Davis said he simply wants to bury his wife as she wished. Her remains still are with authorities, he said. As for Abbey Parklawn, Davis said, "They should be shut down."