LOS ANGELES – A mixup at the Los Angeles County coroner's office resulted in the cremation of a California man whose family was in the process of planning a funeral and viewing, officials said.
"We thought, 'No, this isn't happening. They have to be wrong,'" Mary Lou Diaz told the Los Angeles Times after finding out her nephew's body was gone. "It was devastating. There was no goodbye. There was no closure. The whole family has been affected by this double tragedy."
Her nephew, Jorge Hernandez, died Oct. 7 from a drug overdose.
On Oct. 17, the family knew something was wrong when the coroner's office told the funeral home they didn't know where the body was. The next day, the coroner's office admitted there had been a mixup – a technician failed to cross check case numbers with names, and cremated Hernandez's body thinking he was another Jorge Hernandez, officials said.
"They denied my clients the last parting moments when they were going to be together in a vigil," attorney Luis Carrillo told KTLA. "Around his body, praying, saying their last goodbyes, taking pictures – they deprived them of that."
Armand Montiel, a spokesman for the coroner's office, called the mistake "an oversight by human error," and added that "the department is profoundly sorry for any additional discomfort that this has caused the loved ones of Mr. Hernandez."
The L.A. coroner's office has been overwhelmed recently – the former coroner quit six months ago citing budget and staff shortages. As of late September, there were more than 1,500 bodies still awaiting toxicology and other tests, according to multiple reports.
Hernandez's aunt Mary Lou Diaz said she's aware of the backlog at the coroner's office, but it's no excuse.
"It was bad enough that we lost him," she told KABC. "And then not being able to have that chance to say goodbye, so when they told me that ... they kind of killed him all over again."