• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Positive ID of crash victim delayed by government red tape

A local family who lost a loved one to a fiery crash became trapped in government red tape and couldn't even plan a funeral.
November 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A local family who lost a loved one to a fiery crash in August became trapped in government red tape and couldn't even plan for a funeral.

For the Samland family, the past few months have been filled with heartache. Jake Samland, 77, died on Aug. 17 in a fiery crash on the 15 Freeway in the middle of the desert.

"We all want to put it behind us. Anybody that suffers a loss, at one point, wants to put it behind them," said one family member.

But it's hard to put anything behind them when the coroner's office says they can't even release his remains, because they can't legally identify the body.

"They said he was burned so bad that there was no teeth," said Steve Samland, the victim's son. "He had two broken wrists when he was younger, and they say his hands had burned off and there were no wrists left."

The family says the coroner told them it could be six months to a year before the body is identified, because they say that's how long it would take to get DNA results.

"It's just been an uphill battle. We did a funeral with no ashes, just the urns, because we can't get the remains back," said Steve Samland.

Besides the emotional trauma, there's now added financial stress, too.

"My mom can't do anything. All the accounts that just have dad's name on them are pretty much frozen. She can't get to any funds," said Steve Samland.

The family says Jake Samland was killed when his truck veered across the centerline, crashing into a tour bus traveling the other way. They say there's no doubt the body found was that of Jake Samland. For one, many of his belongings were found at the crash scene.

"We found his cellphone. We found his dog. It's his car," said Steve Samland.

The family says they even got a call from Social Security acknowledging his death.

"They said, 'We heard that Jake Samland had passed away.' And we said, 'Yes.' And they said that they were going to cancel Barbara Samland's Social Security, and she would only be drawing Jake Samland's Social Security now," said Steve Samland.

Even with all that, the family couldn't get confirmation from the coroner's office. Steve Samland wonders how many other families are going through the same thing.

"My dad is sitting somewhere in a freezer with a John Doe tag on him, and it's just not fair," he said. "If my dad's there, how many do they have stacked? Do they have a warehouse full of dead bodies that they have to check? It just doesn't make sense to me."

The coroner says this actually happens about half a dozen times a year in San Bernardino County -- situations where they have to wait for DNA results to identify a body.

"It's just very, very difficult, because we know it's going to be a long time for the family," said Rocky Shaw with the San Bernardino County Coroner's Office.

Shaw says it's out of his hands because the DNA work is done by the Department of Justice. Shaw says in his experience, with bodies that are so badly decomposed, it typically takes six to 12 months to get an answer.

"This type of an identification oftentimes gets bumped for higher criminal proceedings. Oftentimes, this is a little bit lower in priority as it might be to making some type of an identification for a crime case," said Shaw.

But after Eyewitness News started making calls, things started happening. Shaw got on the phone and spoke with some of his DOJ contacts.

"That's not acceptable. This family can't wait a year for this," said Shaw.

A short time ago, the family told me they finally got official word that the remains were indeed those of Jake Samland.

"I'd like to think that your inquiry caused that to happen, so thank you," said Shaw.

Meanwhile, the Samland family continues to struggle. But maybe now they can take the first steps toward getting a little closure.


Load Comments