By GARY POPP
JEFFERSONVILLE — A jury awarded no financial compensation at the end of a civil suit earlier this week to a mother who sued a funeral service over the handling of her 5-year-old daughter’s ashes.
Regina Marie Layton, of Jeffersonville, filed a complaint in October 2009 against Richard Pyke, the former funeral director of Kentuckiana Cremation Center and two funeral homes in Henryville and New Albany.
The lawsuit involved the emotional distress and perceived negligence of Pyke’s handling of Layton’s daughter’s ashes following her loss to a battle with brain cancer. The verdict was delivered Tuesday in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1.
Layton was represented by Jeffersonville attorney David Mosley and Pyke was represented by Richard Mullineaux, of New Albany.
Prior to the child’s death, Pyke had met with Layton, according to the complaint, at which time it was agreed the body would be cremated. When the child died, Pyke retrieved the remains and provided a funeral service days later.
The funeral was held June 25, 2009, and the complaint reveals there was no communication between Pyke and Layton for some time, and July 6 of that year, Layton began making attempts to reach Pyke to obtain her daughter’s ashes, urn and belongings.
On July 9, Layton reached Pyke on his cellular phone and he told her that he would deliver the urn and ashes to her home that evening, but he failed to do so, according to the complaint. From July 10 to July 17, according to the document, Layton made numerous phone calls to contact Pyke to obtain her daughter’s urn and ashes.
“Throughout the week, Richard D. Pyke failed to communicate with her or comply with her requests for the remains, urn and effects to be provided her,” the complaint reads.
On July 17, a person associated with Pyke came to the Layton’s home “ ... carrying the urn and the remains of [Layton’s daughter] upside down,” according to the complaint. The complaint also includes that the urn was leaking the child’s ashes.
Mullineaux said that evidence revealed that the urn was not leaking, and it is his position that the urn was in fact sealed, and perhaps spilled, after Layton forcefully broke the urn’s seal.
The complaint also includes that the child’s ashes were not contained inside a sealed plastic container within the urn.
Mullineaux said a funeral home is not required to put to ashes into a plastic bag before placing the ashes into an urn. He added that the urn was crafted for a child, and smaller than an urn fashioned for adult remains, which makes it more difficult to fit a plastic bag into its opening.
Mosley said it is industry standard in the funeral services business to provide proper documentation to confirm the identity of the ashes.
“We put the focus on [Layton] being given a leaking urn that contained ashes that she was not sure were her daughter’s or not,” Mosley said, adding that an identification tag was not provided with the ashes.
Mullineaux said state statute provides that a funeral home has 30 days to return a person’s ashes to loved ones, and that Pyke fell within that time period.
Mosley said Layton has never received confirmation that the ashes she was given actually are her daughter’s remains.
“It has never been determined, and we have to take the word of Mr. Pyke — a criminal, a fraud and a thief,” he said.
Mosley explained that is was solely up to the jurors to determine what amount should be awarded to Layton if they found Pyke had acted negligently and caused her emotional distress.
“In this type of case, who knows what it is worth,” Mosley said, adding that it is virtually impossible to put a monetary figure on Layton’s suffering. “We asked for what you think it is worth, but I suggested we ask for $2 million for someone mistreated that way.
“Apparently, for this jury it s OK,” Mosley said. “I feel, and I don’t think I’m off on this, the jury got it wrong.”
He said he delivered the best case he could, and he’s left feeling sympathy for Layton.
“I feel sorry for my client,” Mosley said. “She has been through hell.”
Mullineaux also expressed his sympathies for Layton’s hardships.
“This was a tragic situation,” he said. “Mrs. Layton lost her 5-year-old daughter to cancer, and that is horrible.”
Mullineaux also said he thought the jurors did an admirable job with the difficult case.
“I think the jury did an amazing job because of all the stuff that has gone on in the past.” he said. “They were able to focus on the facts that were presented to them.”
In June, Pyke was sentenced in Clark County on 62 counts — 61 of which were felonies — of theft, fraud and for violating the state’s cremation statutes.
Pyke, then 45, was sentenced to 16 years in prison, 10 years of which was suspended. He was credited with time served, which is 789 days, or about two years and two months while he awaited sentencing in the Michael L. Becher Adult Corrections Complex.
Pyke pled guilty to nine counts of insurance fraud, class C felonies; five counts of violating the state’s cremation statute, class D felonies; class A misdemeanors of check deception and conversion; and 45 counts of theft, class D felonies, following a multiagency investigation that began in January 2010 of Pyke-Calloway Funeral Home in New Albany and R.D. Pyke Funeral Home in Henryville.
Police arrested Pyke after authorities found five human bodies and 10 animal carcasses at his Henryville funeral home and some families learned the ashes they received after cremation were not the remains of their loved ones. Pyke also failed to provide gravestones and monuments people had purchased, and collected insurance money by informing the companies a person that held a policy was dead, but they were still alive and he kept the money.
Pyke also pled guilty to two counts of class C felony insurance fraud in Floyd County, for which he was sentenced to two years in prison followed by two years of probation.