MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz. - Issues are brought to light, again, less than three months after FOX 10's "Dealing with the Dead" investigation into the Mohave County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Concerns were raised by multiple funeral homeowners after the county’s decision to pay a private company that owns a handful of funeral homes in the same county to run the medical examiner’s office.
Now, there's been a major change since the investigation.
The man in charge of the ME's office, John Hassett, recently sold his company, Serenity Memorial Group, according to the county, but he will retain some role within the company as he’s still on contract to run the medical examiner’s office.
On Nov. 7, another funeral home went public saying Serenity Memorial Group negatively impacted their business.
Kristen Lietz, owner of Lietz-Fraze Funeral Home spoke at the Mohave County Board meeting saying, "I really thought that after Fox News’ [FOX 10] episode aired, that the county would look into this problem. Again it's a very, very simple problem. You can walk down this hallway to your county office, pull the numbers for each funeral home in this county for the last year, for the last ten years, and you will see the problem that we are having."
She is yet another mortuary owner claiming their business has not gotten a fair shake on the county’s on-call funeral home rotation schedule.
In our previous report, Naomi Bradbury-Marchand, owner of Bradbury Memorial Center, said, "We have significantly declined in the amount of families that have come to us from the medical examiner’s office."
Through the county’s public fiduciary office, on-call funeral homes are scheduled by month and region to take decedents who either don’t have families claiming them, families without financial resources for burial, or loved ones undecided on a mortuary choice.
"Am I manipulating the rotation in order to benefit my own organizations? Absolutely not," Hassett previously said in our report.
‘Please make this right’
Hassett is the director of operations for the Mohave County Medical Examiner. He did own the now-sold Serenity Memorial Group, which possesses a group of funeral homes in the county.
Last November, Mohave County awarded Serenity Memorial Group a multi-million dollar deal as an independent contractor to run the ME's office.
Lietz-Fraze says the number of bodies the ME's office reports they've received since this year is far more than what they’ve actually accepted.
"We have requested the data, the names of these cases we supposedly received, but the health director says its human error, and he’s working on it. The joke is, sadly, that if you want to kill someone, do it in Mohave County," remarked Krista Hunter, COO of Lietz-Fraze Funeral Home, at the meeting.
A resident says when her relative passed away, law enforcement informed her that Mohave Memorial was picking up the body. That mortuary is owned by Serenity, not affiliated with Lietz-Fraze, which was the funeral home requested by the family.
"My concern here is that other families have been told that Lietz-Fraze is affiliated with Mohave Memorial, which is incorrect, which takes the right away of making a choice," county resident Cassandra Rosenberg said.
Lietz says she has no choice but to seek legal advice if improvements aren’t made.
"I’m asking you, please, please make this right. Do the right thing and rectify this problem," she said.
The county board has discussed bringing medical examiner services in-house, meaning staff would be strictly employed by the county, unlike this independent contractor route with Hassett.
Officials also reviewed five potential locations where a new county morgue would be built at the cost of $5 million. The county will discuss the topic again in two months.
Dr. Chad Kingsley, the Mohave County Public Health Director, gave a statement on Nov. 7, saying, "The allegations and concerns brought by employees and individuals affiliated with funeral homes to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors during the public comment on Monday, November 7, 2022, will be addressed on November 21, 2022, as directed by the Board. We invite any interested in the information to attend. In order to provide an opportunity for all interested parties to contribute, no further comment will be provided until the Board of Supervisor meeting."