updated 5/2/2007 10:26:23 PM ET 2007-05-03T02:26:23

The family of a woman who died in a fire was given the wrong body, and was not notified of the error until a friend noticed the body was being exhumed.

Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt said Wednesday his office took responsibility for the mix-up.

"It is our fault," he said. "It is our responsibility, and we apologize to the families involved."

He said authorities were waiting for the body to be exhumed for a positive identification before notifying relatives.

The bodies of the two women were correctly identified in body bags waiting to be picked up at the morgue, but apparently nobody looked at the IDs before releasing the body of fire victim Deborah Reed, 52.

The coroner's office, about 20 miles north of Cincinnati, accidentally released the body of Paula Webb, 23, who died of a probable drug overdose, Burkhardt said.

Burkhardt did not identify the employee responsible for the mistake but said the person would be disciplined.

The error was discovered when inquiries were made by Webb's family on Tuesday about picking up her body, said Kenny Isaacs, the coroner's assistant office manager.

"One of our investigators looked at the remaining bag, then started backtracking to see who had picked up who," Isaacs said. "We knew at that point that we had Mrs. Reed, so that had to be Mrs. Webb."

Wrong body buried
Earlier Tuesday, Reed's family buried the wrong body. The coroner's office, wary of compounding the error, ordered the body exhumed later that day for a positive identification before notifying the families, Isaacs said.

Reed's son, Brian Winkle, said a relative received a call from a friend who lives next to Greenwood Cemetery saying a body was being exhumed by detectives and the coroner's office.

"I came out here and asked a couple of people who work for the cemetery. They were covering up the hole," Winkle said. "One of them finally told me apparently the woman buried wasn't my mother."

Burkhardt said the quick exhumation was not an effort to hide the mistake.

"There was nothing sinister, although they may interpret it as that," Burkhardt said. "Reed did not leave our morgue. Webb is the one who got buried in the wrong grave."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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