Family outraged after finding mother on gurney in funeral home garage

Posted at 5:51 PM, Sep 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-17 08:56:50-04

REED CITY, Mich.-- A man from Detroit is furious after finding his deceased mother on a gurney in the garage of a Reed City funeral home.

Mark Smith recorded a video of the discovery, but the funeral director says the video isn't the whole truth.

John McDowell, the owner of McDowell Funeral Home in Reed City, says the biggest point he wants to get across is that this was all the result of circumstance, combined with some irony and bad timing.

He also says the video is a form of slander, and that it's ruining his reputation.

"It’s harming my reputation and I’ve got a good reputation, you have to understand though, I’m distressed too," McDowell said.

McDowell says Noreen Smith's body was dropped off to his funeral home Friday, Sept. 11 after her death at a local Reed City hotel.

Both local EMS and McDowell told FOX 17 that they tried reaching out to Smith's family, but heard nothing until Monday, which is when McDowell says Smith's family showed up unexpectedly.

That's when Noreen Smith's son, Mark, found his mother on a gurney in the funeral home's garage. Outraged, Mark filmed what he saw, along with his confrontation with the funeral home's owner.

McDowell explained to Smith that his mother was only in the garage for a short period of time, as part of an attempt to keep her cool.

"As opposed to metropolitan areas funeral homes up here don’t have refrigeration, hospitals don’t have refrigeration, we were just asked by ambulance service to temporarily shelter the body," McDowell said.

Local EMS officials say once they turn the body over to the funeral home, the storage of the body is out of their control.

"Our job is to investigate the scene to determine if there’s suspicious activity, or if it’s from natural causes. From that point, we kind of pass that care off to either autopsy or funeral home," said Joel Yonkman, the Assistant Director at Reed City EMS.

McDowell tells FOX 17 it took three days for the Smiths to contact him after Noreen's passing, adding that he can't legally embalm a body without the family's authorization, which is why he had to keep her body cool.

"An important part of this is that family members follow up quickly because again, it's all about timing," Yonkman said.

McDowell is now hoping that timing doesn't ruin the reputation of his family-owned funeral home that's served local families for over 100 years.

McDowell tells FOX 17 Noreen Smith's cause of death is still pending, and he's waiting to hear back from the toxicology lab for results, adding that the Smith family plans to make funeral arrangements in Detroit, who have yet to retrieve Smith's body.

FOX 17 tried contacting the Smith family, but were unable to reach them.