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Officials name man buried by wrong family due to Orange County coroner’s office mix-up

Frank J. Kerrigan and his son Frank M. Kerrigan
Frank J. Kerrigan, right, buried a man Orange County coroner’s officials had mistakenly identified as his son, Frank M. Kerrigan, left.
(Frank J. Kerrigan via KTLA)

Authorities on Friday released the name of a man found dead in May and buried by the wrong family because of a botched identification by Orange County coroner’s officials.

Sheriff’s Lt. Lane Lagaret said a cause of death for the man now identified as John Dean Dickens, 54, was awaiting toxicology reports. Dickens’ body was found behind a Fountain Valley Verizon store May 6 but wrongly identified by officials as Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, a mentally ill homeless man who had been living in the streets.

Kerrigan’s family held a $20,000 funeral that drew 50 people. A friend later called Kerrigan’s father and said that his son was alive — and standing on his patio.

Lagaret said a Sheriff’s Department internal investigation was underway examining “how this could have happened. We’re looking at protocols and other things so that it doesn’t happen again.

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“There was obviously a mistake on our end,” Lagaret said.

Kerrigan’s relatives have filed a $2-million claim against the county for “severe emotional distress.” His father, Frank J. Kerrigan, 82, said the coroner told him his son’s body had been identified through fingerprints, but the family’s lawyer said later that coroner’s officials used an old driver’s license photo to make the match.

The younger Kerrigan’s sister Carole Meikle, 56, went to the spot where her brother supposedly had died to leave a photo of him, a candle, flowers and rosary beads.

“It was a very difficult situation for me to stand at a pretty disturbing scene. There was blood and dirty blankets,” she said. “Those feelings don’t go away.”

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gholland@latimes.com

Twitter: @geholland

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