The body of a 14-month-old boy was cremated by mistake in a morgue mix-up, leaving distraught family members critical of the coroner, who has apologized, placed an employee on leave and began making procedural changes.
An initial review indicated the body of Jaylen Talley was released to the wrong funeral home because a forensic technician did not follow proper procedures, which include opening the body bag, looking at the body and matching up paperwork with toe and ankle tags, Franklin County Coroner Jan Gorniak said.
The cause of death is still pending for Jaylen, whose family said he died May 18 after suffering breathing difficulties since birth. The body was picked up from the morgue the following day and cremated in place of a dead 22-day-old boy whose family wanted cremation.
Gorniak learned of the mistake Sunday after her office called to find out when the funeral home would be picking up the body of the younger child and was told it had already done so.
Jaylen's relatives had been planning to bury him in a tiny white tuxedo. The coroner went to their home to explain what had happened.
"I cannot imagine what this family is going through," Gorniak told WBNS-TV, her voice choking with emotion. "Sorry doesn't cover it at all, and obviously I'm deeply sorry. I offered them my condolences. But I know that's not enough."
Family members expressed shock and demanded that the coroner change the way her office handles things.
"They really just hurt my son. They really just put him in some fire and burned my son," Jaylen's mother, Jamere Sydnor, told WSYX-TV, tears rolling down her cheeks. "It's like he got killed twice."
The coroner said she put the forensic technician on paid leave pending the results of an investigation. The coroner's office on Tuesday implemented a new requirement that bodies be photographed as they are discharged, to help ensure that the body bags are opened and their contents checked, Gorniak said.
Dan Pallay, the owner of the funeral home that cremated Taylen, said members of his staff were unaware that the body was that of an older child and not a 22-day-old infant because they did not open the bag out of respect for the deceased.