Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Over Mishandled Bodies

For Immediate Release April 12, 2007

Remains left in parked van for almost five years

FORT WORTH — The families of two men whose bodies were mishandled by a cadaver transportation company have reached a legal settlement with the transportation company and two Tarrant County funeral homes.

The families’ lawsuit charged that relatives of the men suffered extreme mental anguish, economic damages and past and future medical expenses from the defendants’ “gross negligence” in the handling of the bodies.

According to police reports, North Star Transportation owner Donald Richard Short failed to deliver the bodies from Williams Funeral Chapel to a crematorium as promised. Instead, the bodies were left in Short’s van to decompose for nearly five years. The lawsuit charged that officials at Brown, Owens & Brumley Funeral Directors allowed Short to park his van on their property and alerted no one when they became aware that he had not disposed of at least one of the bodies.

Relatives of Odis Hughes, 44; Thomas Shadowens, 89; and Lonnie Leffall, 93; were told that the bodies had been cremated and that the ashes had been delivered to them or buried as instructed. In one of the three cases, a family member was given an urn containing ashes that she was erroneously told belonged to her father. All of the men died of natural causes in 2000.

The severely decomposed bodies were discovered inside Short’s van after it was repossessed in March 2005. In April 2006, Short pleaded no contest to two charges of abuse of a corpse. He served 30 days in jail, received two years probation and was fined the maximum $4,000. Short was also ordered to write letters of apology to the victims’ families and perform 200 hours of community service.

Attorney John R. Howie, Jr. of Howie Law, PC said the settlement closes a devastating chapter for the families of Mr. Hughes and Mr. Shadowens.

“This has been hard for these families, and they’re pleased that we were able to resolve this lawsuit so they can move on,” Mr. Howie said. Attorneys Patrick Woodson of Puls, Taylor & Woodson; James Orr of Francis, Orr & Totusek; and Randal Mathis of Mathis & Donheiser were also involved in the settlement. A lawsuit filed by Mr. Leffall’s relatives remains pending.

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