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Suit Claims Errors by Crematory : Cemetery: Family says man’s ashes were not put in concrete vault and may be lost. Forest Lawn denies losing remains but admits wrong container was used.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Workers at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park improperly buried--and may have lost--the remains of a Covina man, according to lawsuits filed by the man’s five grown children.

The allegations are the latest in a series of accusations of mishandling of remains by the crematory at Forest Lawn’s Glendale facility, which is under investigation by state officials.

The body of Alexander Williamson, who died at the age of 77 in July, 1987, was to be cremated at Forest Lawn’s Glendale facility and the ashes buried in a protective concrete vault at the Forest Lawn Covina Hills cemetery.

In May, Williamson’s children tried to have the remains exhumed for reburial next to their mother. At that time, cemetery workers did not find a vault--just a few ashes and bone fragments buried under a flower pot. Richard Williamson, 30, said the exhumation was videotaped by his brother, Robert.

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“I don’t have any proof that it is him,” Richard Williamson said. “I have no way of knowing what those remains are. . . . There aren’t enough of them to be the remains of anybody who was 6 feet tall.”

Richard Williamson filed suit in Glendale Superior Court last week, charging negligence by the mortuary and seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress. His four siblings--Eileen Henson, David Williamson, Robert Williamson and Kathy Liccardi--earlier filed a separate suit in Pomona Superior Court, also seeking damages.

The siblings could not be reached; their lawyer declined to comment.

An attorney for the memorial park, Francisco J. Nicholas, conceded that the mortuary failed to use a vault for the remains. But Nicholas said he had no doubt that the unearthed remains are Alexander Williamson’s, although he has no proof.

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“The issue is that the wrong container was used,” Nicholas said. “This is simply a case of a family jumping on the bandwagon, trying to make more of it than it is.” Nicholas declined to speculate why the requested vault was not used.

Officials from the state Cemetery Board said Tuesday that they will investigate the Williamson family’s allegations as part of a broader inquiry being conducted into operations of Forest Lawn’s Glendale crematory. Last year, the facility handled 1,642 cremations for the company’s five cemeteries in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Allegations of misconduct at the crematory surfaced in October, 1990, when a Caltrans worker found a box of ashes on the Glendale Freeway.

The box was identified as having been used to store the remains of Susan Adele Lescoe, who was to have been interred at the cemetery the day before.

Lescoe’s family sued the mortuary. In a sworn deposition in that case, a former Forest Lawn employee testified that the crematory staff routinely discarded human ashes in garbage bags, washed bone fragments down a floor drain and misidentified remains.

Forest Lawn officials have denied that the ashes on the freeway were Lescoe’s and have filed a multimillion-dollar defamation suit against the employee and a lawyer in the case.

In the Williamson case, Richard Williamson said the memorial service for his father was held several days before the burial and no family members witnessed the burial.

“All these years we’ve been going and thinking he was buried there,” he said. “I trusted Forest Lawn. You hear about this kind of stuff at other mortuaries but we figured that with Forest Lawn we’d be safe.”

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Williamson said his mother died in April, and her last request was that she be buried next to her husband of 42 years.

“It meant a lot to us that they be side by side,” he said. “Now, I can never do what my mother wanted to have done.”

Lawyers said there is no scientific way to determine whether the ashes unearthed by the family in May are in fact the elder Williamson. The ashes are in storage at the mortuary as potential evidence in the litigation. Nonetheless, Forest Lawn has put his headstone next to his wife’s grave.


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