Excess Ashes of Cremated Bodies Were Sometimes Mixed, Ex-Worker Testifies

Times Staff Writer

If the remains of a body cremated at a Newport Beach mortuary did not fit into an urn, the excess ashes at one time were thrown into a bucket with the overflow from many other bodies before burial, a retired mortuary worker testified Monday in the trial of a widow's lawsuit against the park.

Ruth Wiese, 80, claims in her suit that employees of Pacific View Memorial Park & Mortuary in Corona del Mar mishandled the remains of her husband after his death on April 7, 1984. She says the park buried his cremated remains six weeks after the funeral services, leading to severe emotional distress when she learned that she had regularly visited an empty grave.

Arthur William Wiese died of heart failure at age 85. An engineer, he founded Bearing Engineers Inc. in the City of Commerce. The couple had been married 18 years.

A standard funeral urn used by the mortuary could hold only five pounds of remains, and excess ashes from cremated bodies were regularly mixed in an overflow bucket until March, 1984, said Pablo Enriquez, 67. Testifying for the defense in the Orange County Superior Court case, Enriquez said he worked for Pacific View for 12 years before his retirement in December, 1984.

Enriquez's job at Pacific View was to load bodies into the crematory ovens and then rake and sweep out the burned remains. For most of his tenure at the mortuary, Enriquez said, he was instructed to "throw" overflow ashes into a bucket. But he said that practice was stopped the month before Wiese's death.

"If a cremation produced more than five pounds of remains, those extra remains would be thrown into the bucket, up until March, 1984?" asked Frederico Castelan Sayer, Wiese's attorney, as he cross-examined the retired mortuary worker.

"Yes," Enriquez answered.

"Within the two- to three-month period it would require in order to fill the bucket with the remains of various people you would have to have 50 to 60 people during that two to three months that would have more than five pounds of remains or ashes?" Sayer asked.

"Yes," Enriquez answered.

Enriquez also testified during cross-examination that he was instructed to empty the bucket of mixed ashes into any open grave at the cemetery, which is on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The ashes would not be covered before a casket was placed on top of them, he said, and the families of those buried in graves with overflow ashes were not told of the practice.

In addition, ashes that the mortuary promised to scatter by airplane were regularly thrown out of a small boat into Newport Harbor, Enriquez said. However, Enriquez testified Monday that he never put two bodies into an oven at once.

The trial, which continues today in Department 32 before Judge Richard N. Parslow, began Jan. 27 and is expected to last four weeks.

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