News 12 at 6 O'Clock, November 25, 2008
AUGUSTA, Ga -- 12 On Your Side goes to work for one family in pain for almost two years.
Family members say they trusted Dent's Undertaking Establishment to cremate their loved one and return the remains. But they say that didn't happen until News 12 stepped in to help.
News 12's Lynnsey Gardner first told you about the trouble at Dent's Undertaking Establishment last month. Now, she brings you of Sharon Mitchell and her brother Terris.
Terris Mitchell died in January of 2007. His sister Sharon never got his ashes from Dent's and she had given up hope, until now.
Sharon Mitchell's brother Terris died almost two years ago. When we first met her in October, she had nothing to show for him, no ashes, no urn, nothing. "It's constantly on my mind. It's not something you think about and say 'oh well.' You think about it everyday. It's an everyday thing."
Sharon called 12 On Your Side when she saw our first investigation into Dent's Undertaking Establishment after one family, the Gowdy's, cried foul on how Dent's handled a family member's body.
Sharon says the family's story flooded her with bad memories. "About my brother, I thought about him and started having flashbacks, what in the world happened to Tab?"
It was a question, she wasn't getting answers to despite repeated phone calls.
Gardner, "When was the last time you contacted Dent's about this?"
Sharon Mitchell "January of this year."
Gardner, "And what did they tell you?"
Sharon Mitchell, "Same thing, that the body was on back order for cremation."
So News 12 did some digging and found that Terris was cremated at Elliot Sons Crematory in Martinez in February of 2007, just a few days after he died.
In a document News 12 obtained from the family and Elliot Sons shows his remains were picked up exactly one month later and signed for by Frank Griffin, the owner of Dent's Undertaking Establishment.
News 12 went to Dent's and spoke with Frank Griffin. He would not talk to us on camera, but off camera he says the family did not call like they say they did. Griffin says that's not unusual. And he took us to a storage room at Dent's. Inside, News 12 observed a dark and empty room with boxes and boxes of abandoned ashes. News 12 counted 28. Griffin says some go back to 2001. They are loved ones with families, people who now sit here, alone, unclaimed.
News 12 found for Sharon, the remains of the brother she ached for were resting here in one of these boxes. "It's been too long."
A long wait that is now, over. " It's been so long I'm not really sure who's ashes, but I'm willing to take the chance to get some closure."
Closure that came just beyond this open door.
Dent's Employee, "Terris Mitchell?" as he hands a box of ashes to Sharon.
Sharon Mitchell, "Yes, thank you."
Dent's Employee, "You are welcome."
Sharon Mitchell, "It's been a long time...I feel a sigh of relief. At least we got somebody to hold onto."
And State Investigators also have something to hold onto. Remember the document that said Frank griffin picked up Terris' remains in March of 2007? Well, the State Agency that regulates funeral homes says it's now part of its investigation. Why? Under the law, any person without a license is not legally allowed to do anything with human remains.
Griffin told News 12 off camera he handles transporting the bodies picking up the remains and dressing them. That would seem to violate the law because we checked state records and Frank Griffin does not have a license.
It's a requirement Frank Griffin was apparently made aware of in 2006. That's when the State fined Dent's Undertaking Establishment after an unlicensed employee made funeral arrangements and when the State said Dent's kept more than 1,700 dollars it was supposed to return to the family.
So are they in violation again? Just two weeks ago, News 12's cameras were rolling when two state investigators visited dents. They are the agency that would determine if griffin or Dent's is acting illegally now or not.
And there's more. This year, death certificates show Dent's has been taking bodies across state lines into South Carolina for embalming or cremation. The State Board of Funeral Services says you need a permit to do that and in at least three cases, those permits were never filed.
Griffin says he thought he filed them, the Department of Vital Records in Richmond County says he didn't.
The State says that too, is illegal.
One of those bodies that was transported into South Carolina is Velma Harmon's sister, Sarah. And, Sarah died in April.
Velma still doesn't have her ashes. "If they don't have it, just tell me. Just tell me what happened so i can have some closure in my heart."
Something Sharon now has in her heart. And for her, it's a lesson learned at a cost.
Gardner, "Do you regret sending him to Dent's?"
Sharon Mitchell " Oh yeah, a thousand times over, a thousand times."
The Secretary of State's Office which oversees the Funeral Service Board that is investigating Dent's says their investigation is ongoing.
Sharon and Velma both say they filed complaints with the State against Dent's as did the family from our first report.
If the State Board of Funeral Services finds Dent's is at fault, they could be fined or go as far as issuing a cease and desist order which could shut them down.
Of course, News 12 will let you know what they find.