DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — Several funeral homes from around the Wiregrass were fined for reported code violations since 2018, according to state records.
The records show that funeral homes around Dothan, Ozark and Headland settled with the Alabama Board of Funeral Services over complaints filed against them.
In one case, a funeral director was found guilty of not embalming a body within a 48-hour period, leading to its decomposition.
Below are the names, locations and details of each specific case described in the board’s documents.
Trawick Ozark Funeral Homes
Around April 24, 2018, a complaint was sent to the Board of Funeral Services concerning Trawick Ozark Funeral Homes, owned Johnny Trawick and located on Martin Luther King, Jr, Avenue in Ozark.
The complaint said that the family of a deceased person, unidentified by the document, sought the funeral home’s services but was assisted by an employee who was not licensed to perform the duties of a funeral director.
On June 5, 2018, Associate Executive Director E. Denise Grogan called the employee and learned that the employee had given the family options for the funeral and merchandise and arranged the financial part of the deal. The employee also wrote a response to the complaint earlier that year saying said the same thing, which Trawick signed.
Later on, Trawick told Grogan over the phone on July 17, 2018, that while the arrangements were being made, he was embalming the body of the deceased.
However, there was a problem. The deceased passed away on April 1 of that year, but Trawick did not embalm the body until the family made arrangements on April 5.
“Trawick stated that he did not embalm the body of (redacted) the date the body arrived at the funeral home because the family had not signed the authorization to embalm,” the case document states.
Trawick said the body was fine when it arrived, but by the time it was embalmed, it already began to rot.
This, along with the involvement of an unlicensed employee in the arrangements, earned Trawick and his business three counts: unlicensed practice aiding and abetting unlicensed practice, and failing to embalm with authorization or refrigerate human remains within 48 hours.
He pleaded guilty to all charges in a settlement on Nov. 23, 2018.
Trawick and his business are now under a two-year probation period that will end on Dec. 5, 2020. He also must pay a fine of $7,500.
Wright Funeral Home & Crematory/Fuqua-Bankston Funeral Home
The documents for Wright Funeral Home & Crematory and Fuqua-Bankston Funeral Home are heavily redacted, but cross-examination shows that the case documents complement one another, filling in each other’s gaps and producing the following narrative.
Around March 4, 2019, Executive Director Charles M. Perine and Grogan learned that Derek Wright, a licensed funeral director and embalmer who worked part time at Family First Funeral Care and Fuqua, was opening a new funeral business in Headland. However, it was never registered with the board and was found to be advertising services as if it were a licensed practice.
Furthermore, Grogan found Facebook posts from Nov. 12 that showed that Wright was providing funeral services. Others showed that the business was available for services as early as May 2018.
Around March 5, 2019, Perine told Wright he could not operate an unlicensed business. According to the records, he was actually running his business’ services through one of the two establishments he worked at, “one of them being Fuqua.”
Fuqua, based in Ozark and managed by John Cawley, would provide merchandise and services for Wright’s business, getting paid for their part.
However, Wright told WDHN News this was a misunderstanding.
According to him, he was not working as a separate business but as a part-time employee of both Fuqua and Family First. Families would specifically ask him to do the funeral, and he would do them at either one of his workplaces.
“On my Facebook, it had Future Home of Wright Funeral Home and Crematory,” Wright said. “They took it from that that I was open because I would share obituaries up under that from other funeral homes. It did not say anything about Wright Funeral Home. I was just sharing obituaries from other funeral homes that … families knew me and asked for me,”
Wright said he never actually advertised that he was open and only opened his business last Tuesday.
Still, the Board of Funeral Services issued 23 counts against Wright: seven for operating an unlicensed establishment, seven four unlicensed practice, seven for fraud and misrepresentation, one for failure to register, and another for false advertising.
Wright settled with the state in a guilty plea to 15 counts of those counts in his settlement on June 26, 2019. He will have to pay $15,000 in fines and undergo a two-year probation period — which, if violated, will result in a 30-day suspension.
However, Wright said he still maintains his innocence and only agreed to the settlement so he could open his funeral home. Otherwise, it would have cost too much money and time to fight the accusations, even if he won.
Cawley and Fuqua were issued 14 counts for aiding and abetting and improper conduct, to which they pleaded no contest in their June 26 settlement.
Cawley will have to pay $7,000 dollars and will face a two-year probation period that will lead to a 180-day suspension if violated. Fuqua will be under a six-month probation period and will pay $6,000 in fines.
Family First Funeral Care
During the course of an investigation, Grogan and Perine requested embalming logs and other documents from Family First concerning an employee, but they were incomplete. When they messaged Family First managing partner David Crenshaw about the discrepancies, Crenshaw replied that all documents relating to the matter were released.
Four counts were filed for failing to cooperate, providing documents within a timely manner, interfering with a board investigation through misrepresentation of fact, and improper dealing. Both Crenshaw and Family First pleaded guilty to the counts in their own settlement in July.
Family First Funeral Care will pay $6,000. Both the business and Crenshaw will serve a one-year probationary period.