Family plans lawsuit claiming mortuary swapped bodies

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Two families who say their mothers' bodies were switched by a funeral home plan to file a lawsuit against Mabrie Memorial Mortuary.

The family of Pearlie Jean Deason says the funeral home buried their mother in a grave that belonged to someone else at Houston National Cemetery.

The grave belonged to Edna Lawson. Deason was mistakenly buried on top of Lawson's husband until the mistake was discovered, the manager of Houston National Cemetery confirmed to Local 2 investigative reporter Jace Larson.

An attorney representing both families held a news conference Friday.

"Ultimately, what we feel is that this is gross negligence on behalf of Mabrie Memorial Mortuary," attorney Shannon Baldwin said.

Lawson's son, Bruce, says he told the funeral director at his mother's viewing that the person in the casket didn't look like Edna Lawson.

"The funeral director said, 'We don't make mistakes like that,'" Bruce Lawson said. He says he even asked if it was possible the funeral home had someone else's body.

He said that he was grieving and worried the embalming process may have changed his mother's appearance so he didn't press more.

Donald Deason, Pearlie Jean Deason's son, says his family paid about $13,000 for the funeral. He says the funeral company has treated him poorly.

"When we got the word, it devastated our family," he said.

After the mistake was discovered, his mother's body had to be exhumed and he had to identify her again.

"She was decomposing," he said.

She had spent a few days in the wrong grave.

"The conduct is reprehensible and they should be severely reprimanded for gross negligence for putting these two families in this horrific position at such a very sensitive time in their lives during the deaths of both of their mothers," Baldwin said.

The families' lawyer expects to file a lawsuit against the funeral home next week. She has not specified the amount of damages she is seeking.

Mabrie Memorial Mortuary released a statement Friday which read:

"Two weeks ago, Mabrie Memorial Mortuary inadvertently mistook the body of Edna Lawson for another person also left in our care. The other individual was buried in Mrs. Lawson's grave site on July 26, 2014, while Mrs. Lawson remained in our facilities. The other individual has been exhumed and properly buried. Mrs. Lawson has also been properly buried in her grave site next to her family members.

When Mabrie Memorial Mortuary discovered the mix up, we immediately contacted the affected families, apologized for the error, and took all appropriate steps to rectify the situation. We have also taken steps to ensure that a similar situation does not happen in the future. The check presented for payment for our services by the Lawson family has not been cashed and will be returned to the family. No payment has been made to Mabrie Memorial Mortuary by the other family involved and none will be charged or accepted.

Mabrie Memorial Mortuary has been a community partner for over 17 years providing memorial services to and quality healing experiences for families in the Houston area. We deeply regret that the families involved had to endure this temporary delay in properly transitioning their loved ones."

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