Father Buries the Wrong Man After Coroner’s Error

June 25, 2017 Updated: June 25, 2017

A father in California ended up paying for a $20,000 funeral to bury the wrong man after a coroner’s error.

Frank Kerrigan, 82, got a call from the Orange County coroner, who said his 57-year-old son, who is also named Frank, had died. He told the OC Register that they told him his son died of an enlarged heart and had fluid in his lungs. He even briefly looked at his so-called son’s body just days before a funeral ceremony, but, overcome with grief, hadn’t realized it wasn’t Frank. According to The Associated Press, the younger Frank is mentally ill and homeless.

“I took a little look and touched his hair. I didn’t know what my dead son was going to look like,” he told the paper. “When somebody tells me my son is dead, when they have fingerprints, I believe them.”

The coroner’s office told him that he didn’t need to go down there to identify him, saying that fingerprints confirmed who he was.

But that wasn’t true. Coroner officials told Kerrigan’s attorney that the fingerprint data they ran through a police database didn’t get a match, and that they then used a photo of Frank from his old drivers license to make a visual identification. 

“If he wasn’t identified by fingerprints I would [have] been there [to identify him] in a heartbeat,” he added.

After the funeral, a family friend, Bill Shinker, called Kerrigan to reveal that his son was actually alive.

“Bill put my son on the phone,” Kerrigan recalls saying. “He said, ‘Hi Dad.'”

Now, the family is demanding answers as to how this could happen.

“The people that we put in place to handle things, when they make these kind of mistakes, they have to be held accountable,” family attorney W. Douglas Easton said.

Frank the younger’s sister, Carol Meikle, believes he was treated differently because he’s homeless.

“He was not given the dignity and the due-diligence in the process that a normal citizen of Orange County would get,” she said. “We lived through our worst fear. He was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him. Those feelings don’t go away.”