Coroner in Ohio says mix-up of plane crash victims means 1 man is cremated by mistake

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ohio plane crash victim cremated by mistake

CINCINNATI — A man killed in a plane crash was incorrectly cremated and the body of the pilot was buried in the first man’s place, an Ohio coroner’s official said Friday.

The two Indiana men — pilot Arthur Potter, 67, and passenger Frank Granato Jr., 55 — were on board a small plane that crashed in rural Union County on March 5. The red single-engine 2007 Evektor-Aerotechnik SportStar Plus was found in a wooded area about 75 miles northeast of Dayton after the plane failed to make a scheduled refueling stop at the Union County Airport.

The body of Granato, formerly from New Castle, Pa., was sent to Potter’s family in Greenwood, Ind., and cremated. Potter’s body was sent to New Castle for burial by Granato’s family, said Ken Betz, director of the Montgomery County coroner’s office in Dayton.

The problem was discovered last week when one of the families reported receiving the wrong personal effects, Betz said.

Potter’s wife, Deborah Potter, of Greenwood, Ind., declined to comment Friday. A person answering the phone at Granato’s residence in Carmel, Ind., also declined to comment.

Union County coroner Dr. David Applegate responded to the crash scene. He said Friday that the badly injured bodies could not be positively identified and he sent them to the Montgomery County coroner’s office for identification from dental records.

Applegate said the Montgomery County coroner’s office later told him that body bags used to transport the bodies to their office were mislabeled at the crash scene.

“There was doubt all the way through, because we couldn’t positively identify the bodies there,” Applegate said. “We thought because of the wallets and clothing that we could make a reasonable preliminary identification and labeled the bags to be helpful.”

Applegate said he knew the Montgomery County coroner’s office would make the positive identification.

“From now on we will not do any preliminary identification, even on the bags, when there are multiple victims and there is any doubt,” he said.

Betz said that the Montgomery County office identified the remains through dental records but didn’t notice the conflict with the initial IDs.

“During my tenure at the this office, we have processed over 40,000 bodies, and this is the first time that we have misidentified someone’s loved one,” Betz said.

Staff at the Montgomery County office took post-mortem dental X-rays and gave those to a forensic dentist along with X-rays provided by the families for comparison, and the dentist put the correct lab numbers on the folders labeled only John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, Betz said.

“When our staff reviewed them we looked at names and conclusions, but overlooked the lab number in the corner,” Betz said. “The numbers were switched because they came in that way on the bags, but we should have caught it.”

Betz said that when dental identification is required in the future, the forensic pathologist and forensic dentist will have to compare their notes before making positive identification.

Applegate is working with the families and legal authorities to get the remains to the right places

“We know this adds more tragedy for the families, but unfortunately it can’t be undone,” Applegate said.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects that Montgomery County coroner’s office is in Dayton, sted Cincinnati.)

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