Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Cremations vex coroner
Cremations vex coroner BY JENNIFER TODD, Staff Writer
Benjamin M. Siar Jr., on behalf of Gundel Funeral Home, submitted three requests for cremation to the county coroner's office on Jan. 16.
Coroner Dr. Stephen G. Diamantoni, whose office is required to authorize all cremations, said his deputy flagged all three.
One request was for the cremation of M. Elizabeth Zug, 97, who died Dec. 26. The three-week delay in submitting the request, along with inconsistencies on the death certificate, raised questions, the coroner said.
In reviewing the other two, which also contained inconsistent information, Diamantoni telephoned a crematory in York County, where the cremations were to be carried out.
He was "sufficiently disturbed" to discover the cremations had already been completed.
"Mr. Siar told them he had obtained verbal authorization (to have the bodies cremated)," Diamantoni said. "We don't do verbal authorizations. Ever."
He called Siar's actions "a very serious violation," noting that, by law, every cremation must be approved by the coroner's office.
On Jan. 17, Diamantoni contacted the Pennsylvania Department of State, which includes the state Board of Funeral Directors, regarding "administrative irregularities" on the part of Siar and Gundel Funeral Home.
Ron Ruman, spokesman for the state Department of State, said Monday that by law he could not confirm or deny if Gundel Funeral Home and its owner are being investigated.
"I can say that, generally speaking, if we receive credible information we take it very seriously," Ruman said. "If we received information about issues of this sort, they would've been thoroughly investigated."
Ruman also said that in the event of law enforcement involvement, state officials typically await the outcome of the criminal case before making their own determination.
Police arrested Siar, 41, on Friday after investigators found four decomposing bodies in the basement of the funeral home on Main Street in Conestoga.
Law enforcement officials began an investigation after receiving complaints from family members who hadn't received cremated remains.
Officials said Siar was paid by the families to cremate the remains. He was charged with four counts each of abuse of a corpse and theft by deception and remains in Lancaster County Prison after failing to post $250,000 bail.
Diamantoni said he experienced no problems with Siar or the funeral home until recently.
He said he's "disappointed" that Siar chose to involve the coroner's office in the situation.
Prior to his arrest, Siar acknowledged to a reporter that he had a "backlog" of bodies to be cremated but blamed the coroner's office for refusing to sign off on the requests.
Siar said he tried repeatedly to get the coroner to authorize the requests but couldn't get a response.
"It's unfortunate that any individual would make untrue allegations against this office," Diamantoni said. "It would appear he's a desperate man."
Specifically addressing Siar's claim as it relates to the remains found in the funeral home last week, Diamantoni said his office received cremation requests for two of the bodies -- Zug and Rosa E. Kleinhaus, 76, who died Dec. 20.
The paperwork for Kleinhaus was received Dec. 21 and approved the same day, he said.
The request for Zug had been delayed pending further investigation.
Diamantoni said he never received cremation requests for the bodies of Ranasia A.R. Knight, 2, who died Jan. 12, and Sandra J. Hotchkiss, 71, who died Jan. 21.
nSays owner of Gundel Funeral Home carried out cremations without proper authorization.