Smell Gives Away Problems at Polk Funeral Home

August 27, 2009
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image The state inspector knew right away something was amiss at the Lake Wales funeral home. There was no mistaking the foul stench wafting through the room. The inspector asked the funeral home’s director, Lawrence Epps, about the condition of the body in the far corner. “There are bugs,” Epps said. Inspector Jessica Morse asked Epps to remove the cover and unzip the body bag. When the outermost plastic covering was parted, dozens of flies emerged.

The body of the 75-year-old man, a Jamaican native, was covered in mold, maggots and other unidentified insects.

Those were the findings of an investigation launched by the Florida Department of Financial Services into Epps Mortuary after Morse found the decomposed body during a routine inspection on March 26.

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Epps received the body on Dec. 22. The body was improperly embalmed, and for more than three months, it had stayed in the corner of the funeral home’s preparation room without refrigeration, investigators say.

On Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink filed an emergency order against Epps, prohibiting the director from embalming bodies. Sink’s department oversees funeral and cemetery services throughout the state.

“This is reprehensible from a licensed professional in this industry,” Sink said in a prepared statement. “This individual was entrusted to do an important and sacred job, and failed.”

Other sanctions against Epps Mortuary include: only state-licensed embalmers will perform the procedure at the business, 626 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. N., Lake Wales; bodies must be embalmed or refrigerated at a state-licensed facility within 24 hours of arrival; and licensees must report to the state any bodies that may be stored at Epps Mortuary for more than seven days.

Epps told the inspector in March that he did not receive money from the man’s family or social services of the City of Lake Wales for the disposition of the body, investigators say. The deceased man’s name has not been released by authorities; in the emergency order, the body is referred to by the initials “B.P.”

The man was finally buried April 18 at Lake Wales Cemetery.

Epps could not be reached for comment today. A woman answering the phone at the business said Epps was out of the state.

The Department of Finacial Services is expected to file formal charges against Epps within the next several days, spokesman Kevin Cate said. The department will be seeking fines, but additional sanctions will depend on the outcome of a hearing before an administrative law judge and the decision of the State Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services, Cate said.

Epps has the right to contest the charges.

The funeral director has been disciplined by the board twice in the past, records show.

In 1996, he was fined $100 for writing a bad check to pay for a required biomedical waste permit for the funeral home. Epps received a reprimand and paid the required costs.

In 1998, Epps pleaded guilty to grand theft when he fraudulently transferred a real estate title to his son. He was fined $5,000 and placed on two years probation. The board also suspended his funeral license until he paid the fine and other costs.

Article By: Ray Reyes, Tampa Tribune

Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813)259-7920.

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