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Suit Says Man’s Ashes Unceremoniously Dumped

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joyce Adams wanted to have her father’s ashes scattered over the sea, but instead, she contends, they were dumped in the bottom of a creek bed, many miles from the ocean.

The Ventura woman has filed a lawsuit against a Santa Barbara crematory and others for allegedly dumping her father’s remains in a plastic sack--mixed with the ashes of 53 others--in a dry Kern County creek bed.

Adams is suing the Neptune Society, the Heritage Crematory in Santa Barbara and 10 related defendants for fraud and emotional distress.

Her case is one more in a growing list of suits against the Neptune Society in California in recent years.

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The director of the Neptune Society, Larry Miller, could not be reached for comment Monday.

In spring 1994, realizing that her father’s health was in decline, Adams paid $1,098.03 to the Neptune Society for his eventual cremation.

Adams’ father, Dikran Khatcherian, died June 6, 1996. Within days, his body was sent to the Neptune Society to be cremated, and his ashes were to be sprinkled at sea.

Shortly afterward, Adams said, she received a memorial plaque, as promised in the cremation contract with the Neptune Society, an organization with national franchises claiming to offer low-cost ocean burials.

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Dated June 14, 1996, the plaque stated that her father’s ashes had been “respectfully delivered to the sea off the California coastline, latitude 33 degrees 37 minutes north, longitude 118 degrees 17 minutes west.”

But on Jan. 17, 1997, Adams said, she received a letter from the state Division of Investigation of Consumer Affairs.

“It is our belief that there may be some unresolved issues regarding those services that were performed for your family,” the letter began.

It got worse.

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Fifty-four sets of metal identification tags from the Neptune Society were found concealed in a Kern County arroyo near Tehachapi.

One of the tags named her father.

Her civil suit contends that rather than treating the cremated remains of its clients with care and dignity--and scattering them at sea as agreed to in the contract--the Neptune Society disposed of them otherwise and filed false statements.

“Obviously, she is in shock that her father was treated this way,” her attorney, Terence Geoghegan, said Monday.

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The suit states: “The cremains of loved ones . . . have been treated like so much garbage: mixed together indiscriminately with the cremains of other people, they have been unceremoniously dumped in the trash, or, in this case, in a dry creek bed, far away from the ocean, as was promised.

“It was all a fraud; the fancy certificate and sworn verified statements, all lies,” the suit continues. “Mrs. Adams had paid over a thousand dollars for the false promises of these despicable criminals, so that her beloved father could be dumped in a common grave, a ditch in a neighboring county. Shards of remaining bone had been left for wild animals. . . . Joyce Adams remains in shock.”

Though Neptune Society officials could not be reached Monday, an attorney for the organization suggested in a newspaper interview last year that the dumping was a failed attempt by an unidentified third party to extort money from the organization. He said the scheme involved stealing the name tags and placing them with cremated surgical specimens.

This is not the first time the Neptune Society has become embroiled in legal controversy.

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In September 1996, the Neptune Society agreed to pay $6.8 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in San Diego filed by families who contended that their dead relatives’ bodies were abused, mutilated or cremated with other bodies.

And last summer, investigators in Contra Costa County found the remains of 5,200 cremated bodies stashed in an airport hangar, whose owner had charged mortuaries between $50 and $100 for years to scatter ashes at sea, while secretly storing the remains.

After authorities opened the rented hangar, they said it appeared that an airplane stored there had not been in service for years.

In a class action resulting from the discovery, families sued dozens of mortuaries, alleging breach of contract and infliction of emotional distress. The Neptune Society is named in one of the suits.

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Most recently, the Kern County district attorney sued the Neptune Society over improper disposal of remains within the county. There was a settlement, which remains confidential. But Geoghegan, Adams’ attorney, said it provides only for cleanup of the remains, not compensation for the families of the deceased.

“I don’t know if there is a seamy underside to this,” Geoghegan said. “All I know is that there have been many, many problems with Neptune in the last six to seven years.”


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