A California dad got a call on May 6 that no parent ever wants to receive: it was news that his son had passed away. The problem is that just wasn’t the case.
Frank Kerrigan, 82, got a phone call that day from the Orange County coroner saying that his 57-year-old son, also named Frank, had died next to a Verizon store in Fountain Valley.
Kerrigan told the Orange County Register that authorities said his son was identified through fingerprints and that he died from an enlarged heart and fluid in his lungs. The father also said that he only saw the body days before a $20,000 funeral ceremony and burial and that between his grief and what he’d been told by authorities that he believed he was really looking at his son.
“I took a little look and touched his hair. I didn’t know what my dead son was going to look like,” he said. “When somebody tells me my son is dead, when they have fingerprints, I believe them.”
Kerrigan said that he asked if he had to go down to the coroner’s office to identify his son, but was told that fingerprints had already confirmed who he was.
“If he wasn’t identified by fingerprints I would been there [to identify him] in a heartbeat,” he added.
Six days after getting that call, a funeral and a burial took place for someone who wasn’t actually Kerrigan’s son, a fact that he would learn on another phone 17 days after the whole ordeal began.
A family friend named Bill Shinker, who was a pallbearer at the funeral, called up Kerrigan on May 23 and revealed that Frank Kerrigan the younger was alive.
“Bill put my son on the phone,” Kerrigan said. “He said, ‘Hi Dad.’”
The Kerrigan family is demanding answers as to how this egregious error occurred and they retained legal representation. Attorneys from Easton & Easton, LLP are filing a claim on behalf of the family due to the coroner’s negligence with the allegation attached that the younger Kerrigan was treated differently because he is homeless and mentally ill.
“The people that we put in place to handle things, when they make these kind of mistakes, they have to be held accountable,” W. Douglas Easton said.
Frank Kerrigan’s sister Carol Meikle believes her brother was treated differently because he’s homeless.
“He was not given the dignity and the due-diligence in the process that a normal citizen of Orange County would get,” she said. “We lived through our worst fear. He was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him. Those feelings don’t go away.”
KABC reported that the coroner has not responded for comment The coroner would not comment and the county has six months to respond to the claim.