Undertaker 'told family she broke suicide victim's legs to fit him in coffin'

An undertaker showed a grieving family how she broke a young suicide victim’s legs to fit him in a coffin, a lawsuit claims. The funeral home worker is said to have provided a graphic demonstration for the traumatized family of 26 year-old Dakota Powell at his August 2017 memorial after they asked why their relative, who was 6ft 4in tall, had been placed in a coffin less than 6ft long.

A lawsuit filed by Powell’s family against French Funerals and Cremations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said: ‘Defendant Dan Antram (company president) and (an employee) met the family members and other mourners at the entrance to the chapel, and as the group approached the pine coffin at the front of the chapel, family members began to become emotional and exclaim that there must be some mistake as the coffin was much too short to contain Dakota Powell.

‘To the horror of (Dakota’s dad) Marc and (grandmother) Sally Powell, and the other family members and mourners assembled, (a funeral home employee) callously stated that they had to disfigure and mutilate Dakota Powell’s body by “breaking his legs” so he would fit in the coffin. The suit went on how explain how that worker ‘even made a breaking gesture with her hands as she made this callous statement.’

The Powells’ attorney Dan Silva told the Albuquerque Journal that French’s alleged ‘desecration’ of Dakota’s body had haunted his family since his tragic death. Silva explained: ‘The Powell family has been able to eventually reconcile themselves to Dakota’s mental illness and ultimate suicide, but have been increasingly haunted by French’s decision to desecrate their beloved Dakota’s body by breaking his legs and stuffing him into a coffin that was much too small for his tall frame, and to callously ignore specific instructions to prepare Dakota’s body in a traditional Jewish fashion.’

The Powells had requested that Dakota’s body not be embalmed, and that he be presented wrapped in a linen shroud in a simple pine coffin, in line with their Jewish faith, with these requests said to have been ignored by French’s staff.

French’s Funerals reportedly refused to engage with the Powells’ complaints, with a subsequent investigation by their insurance company finding no wrongdoing on the undertaker’s part. The Powells are seeking damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish. They said they will donate any payout to the Dakota Tree Project, set up to plant trees in Albuquerque’s poorest neighborhood’s in Dakota’s honor.

A funeral home spokesman said they had yet to receive the lawsuit, and that they did not comment on pending litigation. The worker alleged to have given the macabre demonstration was not named, and no longer works at the undertakers.

For 24/7 confidential emotional support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 in the US. For the UK contact Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.

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