Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TOP STORY >> Funeral owners plead innocent to corpse abuse

Leader staff writer

Arkansas Funeral Care owners Leroy Wood and Rodney (Rod) Wood pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 13 felony counts each of abusing a corpse.

Their next court date is Sept. 2, according to the Jacksonville District Court.

Funeral director and embalmer Edward Snow faces the same charges and is due in court June 25 for plea and arraignment.

The Jacksonville funeral home at 2620 W. Main St. was shut down in late January after an inspector found bodies “stacked on top of each other” and a cooler “filled beyond capacity.”

The 86-year-old father, who lives in Jacksonville, and his son turned themselves in Tuesday morning, while Snow was taken into custody Monday afternoon.

Rod Wood is 61 and lives in Heber Springs. Snow is 63 and lives in Cabot.

Bond was set at $2,000 for all three, and none were at the Pulaski County Jail as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the inmate roster on its website.

On Jan. 23, the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors levied a $10,000 fine and closed Arkansas Funeral Care by accepting voluntarily surrendered funeral director, crematory and establishment licenses from Leroy Wood.

But that meeting didn’t resolve complaints involving Snow, who — along with embalmer Glenda Beard — is set to appear before the state board when it addresses those complaints on July 9.

According to the affidavit, a detective who interviewed Arkansas Funeral Care employees found out “things began to get overwhelming in the month of January due to an unusual number of death calls.”

It notes that the “frustrated” employees said the Woods told them “they were being blessed.”

The affidavit states, “Upper management, Leroy and Rod Wood, would not allow hourly employees overtime.” All were hourly, except for the two of them, Snow, another funeral director/embalmer and an apprentice.

Also, according to the affidavit, “A contributing factor to the large number of bodies stored at the funeral home other than the unusual number of death calls was the refusal to cremate or provide services until payment for the desired services were paid in full.”

It states that employees told police the Woods denied requests for additional help, equipment and overtime because they said they couldn’t afford more cooler space, beds or overtime. The owners were planning to open another funeral home in Alma, according to the affidavit.

It lists 12 witnesses, with one being the board’s inspector and another being a Jacksonville police officer. It’s probable the other 10 are employees.

The affidavit reads, “There is evidence of multiple bodies stored outside of the cooler over a period of time in January…Bodies were stacked on top of one another, on pallets, on the washer and dryer and on every available space they could find.

“Coffee cans with deodorizer were placed next to bodies to help with the odor in the room. The employees were astonished that management refused to stop taking bodies when there was nowhere left to put them.”

After Board Inspector Leslie Stokes first presented her report during a Jan. 21 emergency teleconference, 31 bodies and 22 cremains were immediately removed from the home.

Of those, 13 are believed to be victims of abuse of a corpse, including one body photographed and documented outside the cooler by the inspector. The affidavit says the deceased woman was in a state of “extreme decomposition.”

The detective requested the board’s investigative notes, photos, documentation and statements on Jan. 27 and received them on Feb. 2, the affidavit notes.

Part of the board’s Jan. 23 agreement with Leroy Wood was that it would not pursue criminal charges by forwarding information to the county prosecutor’s office.

But, Board Secretary Amy Goode said, the recent arrest doesn’t mean that agreement was violated because its actions and the Jacksonville Police Department’s investigation are “two separate issues.”

She explained that any documents requested by police had to be provided because they were subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The felony the Woods and Snow are facing is committed when a person knowingly “physically mistreats or conceals a corpse in a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities,” according to the affidavit.

A reported nine lawsuits have also been filed against Arkansas Funeral Care.