Two grieving families are accusing a funeral director of taking advantage of them after the deaths of their babies. That funeral director is also an elected county coroner.
One of these mothers claims the funeral home essentially held her baby's remains for ransom, but the funeral director says he did nothing wrong. Still, the mother was so distraught by the dispute she made a heartbreaking call to police for help.
Dispatcher: "911, where is your emergency?"
Mother: "I need a sheriff dispatched to Lamb Funeral Home."
Dispatcher: "What's going on at Lamb's?"
Mother: "They have my baby and won't release him."
Just days after delivering a stillborn baby, that grieving mother was on her way to Lamb's Funeral Home in Hopkinsville, KY, begging a dispatcher for help.
Dispatcher: "Who has your baby and won't release it?"
Mother: "Lamb Funeral Home. He cussed out the funeral director. We talked with him to get a price earlier - what it would cost to bury our baby, a little baby, and he won't release him to Todd County where we want him buried."
Dispatcher: "Why are they refusing to release the child?"
Mother: "He said that I owe him money, but he hasn't done any, provided any service. He hasn't planned the funeral. He wouldn't do anything until we come up with the money."
Brittany Jones was the mother who made that call earlier this year. She and her husband claim Lamb Funeral Home essentially held their baby for ransom during their darkest hour. They say the owner of Lamb Funeral Home, who is also the coroner in Christian County, asked them to pay their balance for his services before he would release their son's body to another funeral home.
"I never thought someone would hold our baby just for money, and we just wanted to bury him and try to move on," said Jones.
Jones will tell you she and her husband don't have much money and they couldn't afford to bury their baby. That's why they wanted Todd County Funeral Home to handle the services, because the owner there offered to do it for free.
"We went to pick the body up, and he refused to give us the body because there was a balance owed on his transportation costs," said Todd County Funeral Home owner Shane Hessey. "We waited until the next day before we got the remains."
The Joneses wanted one last chance to see their baby and say their goodbyes. They claim time was running out to embalm their son so they could have an open casket funeral. That's why they called 911, asking the police to intervene.
The Channel 4 I-Team brought these allegations to the National Funeral Directors Association, an international advocacy group for the funeral industry.
"What he is doing is borderline, one, unethical and almost illegal if he actually says, 'you're not receiving this body until I get paid.' That is holding a body for ransom," said Bob Arrington, a board member with the National Funeral Directors Association.
Dorris Lamb, the owner of Lamb Funeral Home, agreed to sit down with the Channel 4 I-Team.
"When babies' families or adults are distraught, sometimes they hear things or think things that aren't necessarily true. This talking about monies, there was no monies involved at all on our behalf," said Lamb.
Lamb denies the Joneses' claims, saying he agreed to release the baby's remains the day after the family requested it, and he says he didn't demand money.
"There was no charge here. For a ransom you have to have a demand. All we did is tell them they would need to come the next day," said Lamb.
Lamb says the family was upset because they wanted him to release the remains sooner than he did. But these aren't the only allegations Lamb has faced. The Channel 4 I-Team checked his file with the Kentucky Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
In 2007, a man wrote the board claiming Lamb kept thousands of dollars from a prearranged funeral account. The Kentucky Attorney General's Office requested Lamb pay that man's family more than $4,000 that they say he had kept from the account.
The following year, Tennessee regulators said Lamb violated procedures for burial transit permits. Kentucky's Board of Funeral Directors followed up with a letter saying his conduct with the permits was "unprofessional."
Plus, another mother who lost two babies in the span of a few months says Lamb demanded she pay her balance for his services before her family could see her son the day of his visitation.
"I'm grateful that I did have money and a family to help me, because if I didn't, I would not have gotten to see my son," said the woman, who did not want her identity revealed.
Lamb says that's not true.
"That's not our policy and never has been. And, same thing, I think, Kim. People hear what they want to hear. We are here to direct and help that family," said Lamb.
That's not what either of these families say happened during the worst days of their lives.
"I don't want anybody to have to go through any more grief than they are already going through losing a loved one," said Jones.
Regarding those earlier complaints, Lamb had the option to appeal the Kentucky Board of Embalmers and Funeral Director's decision but the board said he did not.
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