(Photo illustration by John Partipilo.)
A Lewisburg funeral home entered a consent order to avoid being charged by state officials for their alleged role in assisting an ex-funeral director lose the remains of a deceased Mexican national.
In 2020, Reid Van Ness, approached Anderson Funeral Home directors Gloria Quarles and Emmitt Quarles for assistance in preparing the body of Ramon Lara Castillo for burial.
Castillo, originally from Mexico, had worked as a house painter in Nashville before his death on Oct. 23, 2020 from liver cancer. Because his immediate family lived in Mexico, Castillo’s roommate, Hugo Gonzalez, sought to send his remains to his sister, Diana Isabel Lara Castillo in Veracruz, Mexico.
Gonzalez contacted Van Ness, unaware that Van Ness was the subject of a state investigation that found several bodies belonging to immigrants in his care in various stages of decomposition.
At least 10 families contracted with Van Ness to deliver the bodies of relatives to them in other countries, but state investigators instead found the bodies were stored and left to decompose in several Middle Tennessee funeral homes, including Saddler Funeral Home & Crematory Services in Lebanon and Nelson & Sons Chapel in Murfreesboro.
Some of the remains were left to decompose for up to 11 months, and two belonged to children, including an 18-month-old infant. The aforementioned funeral homes and Van Ness are now part of a federal lawsuit involving five families accusing Van Ness of failing to send the remains of their deceased overseas for burial.
The body of Julio Mejia Alonzo, whose family filed a lawsuit on Oct. 28, 2021, was found two years after his death after the family contacted a lawyer. He had been buried at Hills of Calvary Cemetery in Nashville without his family’s knowledge.
Both Saddler funeral home and Nelson & Sons settled with the state for violations.
Van Ness voluntarily surrendered his funeral director and embalmer licenses on March 6, 2020, and was not licensed when contacted by Gonzalez. After Gonzalez paid $1,800 for Castillo’s remains to be sent to Mexico, Van Ness stopped responding to his messages inquiring about delays.
State officials were later alerted to investigate the Anderson Funeral Home after a Lookout investigation.
On Oct. 28, Quarles told investigators that Van Ness had asked them to prepare Castillo’s body for a visitation and funeral. Castillo was then cremated and Quarles gave the ashes to Van Ness to be returned to the family, according to a disciplinary action report by the Tennessee Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.
The Quarleses had no further contact with Van Ness, but Castillo’s family issued a complaint on Dec. 9, 2021 that they had yet to receive the ashes. The Quarles were listed as being responsible for the deceased remains.
Castillo’s cremated remains are still missing.
On Jan. 10, 2022, the Quarleses voluntarily entered a consent order to avoid charges and admitted to violating state laws, including acting in an unprofessional manner and engaging in misleading or deceptive practices.
They were ordered to pay $5,000 and the cost of the investigation, an additional $420.75.
At this time, state officials will not revoke Emmitt Quarles’ licenses to practice. Gloria Quarles’ funeral director license is expired.
The Anderson Funeral Home offered no comment.
“In addition, it is further ordered that all persons in any way assisting, aiding or helping respondent in any of the aforementioned violations of the act shall cease and desist from all such activities,” according to the funeral board, and directs the statement to anyone who may have assisted with violations under this act.
On Dec. 6, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance issued a warning to all Tennessee residents about Van Ness’s alleged ongoing activities in providing funeral services.
Van Ness is allegedly approaching Spanish-speaking residents in Rutherford County who have recently lost a loved one, and the Lookout last reported on a family who found their missing deceased relative with Todd County Funeral Home in Kentucky, a known associate of Van Ness.
Shane Hessey, director of Todd County Funeral Home, told the Lookout he had little knowledge of the allegations made against Van Ness.
“We are continuing to share information with law enforcement agencies regarding the activities of Reid Van Ness,” said TDCI spokesperson Kevin Walters.
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