Authorities Order Closure of Edinburg Funeral Home

January 14, 2010
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imageDahlia Casanova only wanted a proper burial for her sister.

Instead, she found herself caught in the middle of an ongoing divorce dispute between two funeral home owners that resulted in the closing of one of their businesses this week.

The Texas Funeral Services Commission ordered the Gonzalez Family Funeral Home in Edinburg to close its doors on Tuesday, five days after Casanova first had her sister?s body brought there. The business has been operating without a license for more than two months, a commission spokeswoman said.

Nora Hinojosa, the woman employees identified as the current owner ? and to whom the commission addressed its cease-and-desist order ? declined interview requests Tuesday.

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Casanova, meanwhile, worries other families also may have been affected by the unlicensed firm.

?I wonder how many people don?t know what the family members of the deceased go through,? she said. ?I wouldn?t want people to go through what I had to go through.?

For years, the Gonzalez funeral home and the second business to which Casanova took her sister?s body ? Rivera Funeral Home in McAllen ? operated under the same ownership.

Ron Rivera, 45, signed over the Gonzalez business to his ex-wife as part of a divorce finalized in April 2009, he said during an interview Tuesday.

State law requires that funeral homes apply for a new license if a change of ownership occurs. But Hinojosa failed to seek new accreditation for her business and allowed the existing license to lapse last year, according to the state funeral commission.

Casanova didn?t know any of this Friday when her sister, Estella Jimenez, died at a San Antonio hospital.

Casanova arranged to have the body taken to Gonzalez Funeral Home in Edinburg so Jimenez could be cremated and interred next to her father?s grave. But when Casanova raised questions about the price of transporting the body and the handling of her sister?s corpse, she discovered the funeral home was operating outside state law.

As she mulled over options for her sister?s burial dress Tuesday, she recalled her decision to call on Rivera Funeral Home to take over her sister?s services.

?Now, there?s all this extra anxiety,? she said, battling back tears. ?(Gonzalez Funeral Home) shouldn?t have accepted the business if they didn?t have a license.?

The same lapsed license Casanova saw ? with an expiration date in October 2009 ? was hanging in the Gonzalez funeral home?s lobby Tuesday as members of a separate family gathered for a viewing. Employees, who acknowledged receipt of the funeral service commission?s order shutting down their business, said another funeral home was handling that family?s arrangements.

Later that evening, mourners filled the Gonzalez funeral home?s parking lot as they gathered for an open-casket viewing for a teen who died in a weekend car wreck.

A Monitor reporter went to the funeral home Tuesday to interview Hinojosa, but she had an employee tell him to leave.

Casanova claims Hinojosa gave her similar treatment when Casanova tried to move her sister to Rivera Funeral Home.

?She refused to release my sister?s body until I paid her,? Casanova said. ?I had to call the police.?

Once Rivera Funeral Home moved Jimenez?s body to its own facilities Sunday night, employees there told Casanova that Hinojosa had threatened to file a complaint against her and Rivera Funeral Home in court, she said.

Casanova has since requested that a third funeral home take over her sister?s burial arrangements. While she says she has no complaints with Rivera Funeral Home, she was not comfortable leaving her sister?s fate in the hands of two feuding ex-spouses.

Gonzalez Funeral Home can apply for a new license, the state funeral services commission said. But the business may also face hefty penalties pending the outcome of an ongoing state investigation.

In the meantime, state law prohibits it from making any funeral arrangements until a new license is issued.

Casanova, meanwhile, hopes to have her sister cremated quickly and extracted from the ongoing disputes between the Rivera and Gonzalez businesses.

?I just feel guilty jumping from one funeral home to another to another,? she said. ?I just want my sister to be in peace.?

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