North Hollywood mortuary sends wrong remains to Mexico, families say


Israel Placencia, a 44-year-old truck driver, was stricken by a heart attack. Ponciano Sandoval, a 30-year-old construction worker, died of tuberculosis. The bodies of both men were embalmed at Angeleno Valley Mortuary.

Instead of delivering Placencia's body to a Pomona cemetery, his widow says the mortuary sent it nearly 2,000 miles away to Guerrero, Mexico. Mourners never checked to see who they were burying. They had been ordered not to open the casket for fear of TB contamination.

Sandoval's family learned the body of their loved one hadn't left North Hollywood. The families say it got worse. According to the complaint, the mortuary failed to get the necessary permits for the return trip of Placencia's body. He had to be reburied before proper documents would allow release of the remains.

Sandoval's father says his family became a laughingstock in Guerrero with ultimately three burials for his son.

Meantime, Placencia's widow was plagued with doubt. When her husband's body finally came back, was it really him? Thirty-one days after he had been embalmed, she says she had to check for herself by seeing and touching him.

"It was horrific. It was surreal, but that was the only way that she could confirm once and for all, even though she still has doubts, frankly," said attorney Arnoldo Casillas.

Placencia's widow further alleges fraud, saying the mortuary asked her to sign papers that she thought were an acknowledgement that the mortuary would be providing its services and the cemetery plot for free because of its mistake. She learned later it was a waiver of liability that could shield the mortuary from legal action.

The mortuary said it cannot release any details on the case, only that "through the legal process, all facts and information will be known."

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