Bisbee field of bones: state yanks cemetery owner's license
PHOENIX (KGUN9-TV) – The Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers revoked Memory Gardens Cemetery owner Paul Parker's license Tuesday afternoon, after a hearing in Phoenix that included a tense question and answer session between Parker and several visibly upset board members.
Parker admitted to the board that he had been dumping partially cremated remains of people who donated their bodies to medical research into an open field at Memory Gardens for more than five years. A cemetery visitor discovered the bones in October and called authorities. Bisbee Police declared that Parker did nothing illegal by dumping the bones in the field.
"It seemed reasonable at the time. No longer does it. And it will not continue that way as long as I'm here," Parker told the board.
Still, board members unanimously agreed that Parker violated a number of professional codes of conduct, including the commingling of human remains, incomplete cremating of bone fragments, and improperly securing his crematory. More specific examples include Parker's use of air trays (wooden containers used to transfer remains) to build a fence alongside his crematory and storing remains in garbage cans before dumping them in the field.
"The funeral industry is about treating with dignity and honoring those whom we serve, the family members of those who are deceased or, in this case, the final disposition of body parts," said President Katherine Shindel.
Board members also fined Parker $1,000 for every violation, but agreed to waive the costs if he showed compliance with state statutes within 60 days. They also required Parker to pay for administrative costs of the investigation.
"After all, these are people we're talking about, not disarticulated parts. They're people. I think that's what he has to get through his head," said board member Jim Ahearne, who wanted to also revoke the license of Parker's St. David crematory.
However, the board decided to only suspend the license of San Pedro Funeral Home & Cremation Services for 60 days and put it on probation for two years, requiring the facility to establish proper procedures to comply with state law. With the revocation of Parker's license, the crematory would likely be taken over by Parker's wife, whom he admitted also engaged in the same practices at the hearing.
9 On Your Side's Claire Doan asked Shindel whether the Board did enough to ensure Parker's wife wouldn't continue the same practices.
"I am convinced that we have Mr. Parker's full attention, and I trust that the board staff to ensure they do not approve any procedures that are not in full compliance," answered Shindel, who added the staff would make extra visits and surprise inspections to the facility.
The board created a task force to look into possible updates for current Arizona statutes to cover the handling of remains for those who donate their bodies to medical science. However, some members say those new rules would be irrelevant in this case.
"You don't need legislation or new laws to fix the things that were done here. You need a conscience," Ahearne said.
Meanwhile, state workers and volunteers are still in the process of gathering all the bones from the field where they were dumped. The state plans to scatter them after they fully cremate them, and says they will invite anyone who thinks their loved ones are affected to be present.