Families sue shuttered Lewiston funeral home over botched cremations

·6 min read

Sep. 18—AUBURN — Three clients of a Lewiston cremation business are suing for damages stemming from the botched handling of their family members' bodies.

The civil complaints have been filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court since last month.

In each case, their family members had been stored at Affordable Cremation Solution without refrigeration to the point where they had become unrecognizable due to decay and decomposition. Those remains had been seized by the Maine Office of Chief Medical Examiner after the business was shuttered.

Six other families have filed suit in Cumberland County in Portland.

Kenneth Kincer's business was shut down and its funeral licenses were suspended in June by Maine's Board of Funeral Service.

Investigators cited a public health violation after detecting an odor of decomposition and discovered the unrefrigerated bodies of 11 people in the basement of the business at 643 Main St., Lewiston.

Last week, the board agreed to offer a consent agreement with Kincer that would bar him from holding a funeral license for at least a decade, according to a Sun Journal published report.

That board unanimously agreed Kincer would be allowed to seek a new license after 10 years if he can show he has rehabilitated himself and stayed away from drugs and alcohol for at least three years, the report said.

In one of the lawsuits, Arlene Goguen wrote that her son, Philip, fell on concrete outside a Lewiston bus station and suffered a fatal traumatic brain injury.

She contacted Kincer's business on May 17. Kincer agreed to pick up Philip Goguen's body from Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and perform a cremation as soon as the hospital released the remains, according to the complaint filed Aug. 2.

On May 21, Kincer notified Arlene Goguen that her son's body was ready and the removal process would take place in a day or two, the complaint says.

On May 26, Goguen called Kincer to ask that her son's ashes be held for someone to pick up. Kincer "assured her that this would not be an issue," according to the complaint.

On May 31, Goguen called Kincer again to check on the status of her son's remains. Kincer told her "there would be a slight delay," the complaint says.

More than two weeks later, Goguen was still waiting for Kincer's call so she could pick up her son's ashes.

On June 16, roughly a month after contacting Kincer, one of Goguen's children made her aware that Kincer and his company were under investigation by regulatory authorities.

Goguen tried calling Kincer, but there was no response, the complaint says.

She found online news reports of "horrific conditions" at the business.

In a panic, Goguen called the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

She was told that her son's body was one of those found at the business that had been unrefrigerated during a record-setting heat wave and that after the business was closed and Kincer's license was suspended, the state agency had taken her son's body to its office in Augusta.

"Since mid-June, Arlene has been left in shock, without answers, and the image of her son's decomposing body stuck in her head," the complaint says.

Suzanne Castle of Gardiner, who filed a complaint earlier this month, said her mother, Marie Anne Gallant, died May 28 at her home.

Castle called the Lewiston cremation business and instructed them to cremate her mother's remains, which they agreed to do, the complaints says.

Her mother's body was picked up later that day.

She was told the business was "a little backed up" and that she could pick up her mother's remains in about two weeks.

On June 9, she was told the cremation hadn't been performed because Kincer was sick, but the ashes would be ready for pick up in a "few more days."

Her mother's funeral service was scheduled for June 12 and Castle attended the service "without her mother's remains," according to the complaint.

On June 16, she heard from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, which told her that the agency had taken possession of her mother's body and she would need to find a different cremation business to perform that task.

Castle later learned that Kincer's business had stored her mother's remains in an unrefrigerated room in the basement of the business since May 28 and, as a result, "her mother's body was in an unrecognizable state of decay and decomposition when it was recovered," according to the complaint.

Bonnie Bartlett and Richard Holbrook of Fayette also filed a complaint earlier this month alleging Kincer's business retrieved the body of their sister, Betty Bartlett, on May 26 at her home, where she had died.

Bonnie Bartlett had instructed the business to cremate Betty Bartlett's remains.

Instead of transporting her body in a body bag, Kincer's business used her bed sheets and blanket, the complaint says.

Her siblings were told their sister's remains could be picked up in about two weeks.

Two weeks later, they were told their sister's body hadn't been cremated because the owner had been sick.

After she was told several days later that there was nothing Kincer's business could do about the situation, Bonnie Bartlett called a different cremation facility to retrieve her sister's body from Affordable Cremation Solution to perform the service.

About a week later, the newly contracted business informed the siblings they had been unable to retrieve their sister's body because they hadn't been able to contact anyone at Kincer's business.

Later, they were able to reach someone there, who said, "It was not a convenient time for Betty's body to be picked up."

Days later, they were told Affordable Cremation Solution "no longer had Betty's body."

Around June 22, the surviving siblings were contacted by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner that the state agency had taken possession of their sister's body and they would need to hire a different business to perform the cremation.

They asked whether they would need to identify their sister's body.

They were told her remains were unrecognizable, according to the complaint.

They later learned their sister's body had been stored in an unrefrigerated room in the basement of the business, still wrapped in bed sheets and for that reason, had been unrecognizable due to decay and decomposition.

All of the plaintiffs who filed suit seeking damages claimed negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.

Through his attorney, Kincer apologized to those who complained about his business and their families and offered an explanation for his conduct.

The attorney, John Clifford of Lisbon Falls, characterized the past year-and-a-half of Kincer's life as a "living nightmare."

In the grips of alcoholism and depression, he separated from his wife of 15 years and was further isolated by the pandemic. Around the same time, his sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Clifford wrote in a letter to the funeral board.

"These events caused Ken to feel like the weight of the world was on his shoulders," his attorney wrote. "He has been paralyzed by the depression and anxiety. Most nights he tosses and turns, unable to sleep. As a result of this his business suffered terribly and compounded his mental health problems."

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