Family sues coroner, funeral home she works for - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Family sues coroner, funeral home she works for

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Coroner Emma Quimbley Coroner Emma Quimbley

November 12, 2007

Albany -- The Dougherty County Coroner and the funeral home where she works are being sued.

The family of a man killed in a car crash last year says the coroner used her office to influence their family where to hold funeral services.

Once they changed their minds, it was too late, the man's body had been embalmed by someone who wasn't even licensed to perform that duty.

In just a split second, life ended for 32-year-old Arthur Deriso, after the motorcyclist collided with an SUV on Slappey Boulevard in January, 2006.

He was taken to the hospital where Dougherty County Coroner Emma Quimbley met with hospital officials and family members.

"My job is to basically meet with the family, get some more medical information on him and basically to find out what funeral home they're going to use. That's the job I do at the hospital," Quimbley said.

She says she got information about their wishes for how to handle the body, but she denies she suggested they use MLK Funeral Chapel, the funeral home that she manages. "I've never, as the Coroner of this county, I've never asked a family or suggested to the family, what funeral home they use. It's very unethical."

But the family of Mr. Deriso, in a lawsuit filed in Dougherty Superior Court, says Quimbley unduly influenced their decision. They planned to use a funeral service in Oglethorpe, GA., and only chose MLK Funeral Services after Quimbley and another funeral home employee met with them in a closed room at the Hospital.

"There was a friend of the Deriso's son, which happened to work at the funeral home."

And did he ask them to use MLK Funeral Chapel? "I won't go into all those details at this time," said Quimbley.

But Quimbley will say she doesn't see any conflict of interest with her working both as coroner, and a funeral home employee. "No. Most of your coroners are either licensed funeral directors, licensed embalmers, or affiliated with a funeral home, so no there is no conflict of interest there."

But the lawsuit alleges another problem. It states that after leaving the hospital, the family decided not to use MLK Funeral Chapel, but by the time they notified workers there, the body had already been embalmed. They say it was a botched job, by an unlicensed embalmer.

"The art of embalming is life like appearance. And Mr. Deriso definitely had life like appearance. There was no problems with Mr. Deriso as far as embalming was concerned," said Nathaniel Payne, Funeral Home Director.

"Frederick Stafford who is a licensed embalmer assisted my son in the embalming process, there was nothing improper. The only thing is my son had not registered with the state as an apprentice," said Payne.

Owner Nathaniel Payne, paid a $500 fine for signing the Death Certificate without being the perosn who did the embalming, and was placed on a year's probation back in March.

Amy Deriso is suing the defendants for $15,000, plus punitive damages.

Quimbley has served as Dougherty County Coroner since 2004. She's up for re-election next year.

Neither Quimbley nor Funeral Home Owner Nathaniel Payne will say whether she is still an employee at the funeral home.

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