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Forest Lawn Settles Lawsuit Over Misplaced Body

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Forest Lawn Memorial-Park admitted in a court settlement Tuesday that it lost the body of a 77-year-old man who was supposed to be buried there, but lawyers for the cemetery denied accusations from the man’s family that they were defrauded and deceived by the mortuary.

Glendale Superior Court Judge James Otero barred the five grown children of Alexander Williamson, who died in 1987, from disclosing the financial settlement they will be paid by Forest Lawn.

One of Williamson’s sons said the court settlement and payment does not completely mollify the family.

“They admit they lost my father, but they refused to apologize,” said Richard Williamson, 36. “I wanted an apology, and I also wanted them to try to find my father, but they refused to do that either.”

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Alexander Williamson was supposed to be cremated at Forest Lawn’s Glendale facility and his ashes buried in a protective vault at the Forest Lawn Covina Hills cemetery. But in May 1991, when his children tried to have his remains exhumed and reburied next to their mother, no vault was found--just a few ashes and bone fragments buried under a flower pot, along with a metal tag used to identify the remains.

Richard Williamson said Forest Lawn maintained during the first two years of litigation brought by the family that the tag found at the grave belonged to his father. But Forest Lawn attorney Francisco Nicholas said the company never attempted to deceive the family. He said that the mortuary had admitted negligence and liability from the outset of the court case, and that the purpose of the litigation was only to determine the amount of damages to be paid.

“During the course of this litigation we came to realize . . . that we were unable to identify with confidence the whereabouts of the cremated remains of the plaintiffs’ father,” Nicholas said. “There is no mystery on that.”

But there have been other allegations of misconduct at the Glendale crematory. In October, 1990, a Caltrans worker found a box of ashes on the Glendale freeway that held the remains of a woman who was to have been interred at the cemetery the day before.

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Richard Williamson believes his lawsuit and the earlier incident show a pattern of misconduct by the mortuary. Officials with the state Cemetery Board, which oversees cemetery operations, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Nicholas said the Williamson case was an isolated incident and that there is no pattern of wrongdoing.


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