The family of a deceased woman whose ashes were mixed into a muddy pile with 15 other sets of cremains by firefighters battling a blaze inside a Cypress Lawn crematorium last year is suing for the distress of not having individual remains to lay at rest.
Twenty-two members of Dai Jin Lin’s family, including the woman’s widow Wai Bun Kwok down to her grandchildren, filed suit Monday against the Cypress Lawn Cemetery Association. The suit seeks damages for negligence, infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract for funeral-related services.
Lin, who died April 1, 2013, had already been cremated and was in a holding room with 16 other people’s ashes when on May 15 the cremation furnace holding two bodies combusted. The blaze incinerated all of the remains in the storeroom and severely damaged that building and an attached historic chapel. Dozens of firefighters contained the three-alarm fire which broke out around 9:30 a.m. that day and was later ruled accidental.
Cemetery officials initially said no remains were lost because the two bodies, including Lin, were inside the crematorium but a week later confirmed that the 16 sets of ashes were washed into what the suit deemed “a huge mud pile on the floor” during the emergency response. The ashes could not be separated or individually identified.
The cemetery tried to reach a resolution with the families of what to do with the ashes but most, including Lin’s family, were not comfortable with the idea of a mass grave, said family attorney Gregory Bulliung.
“I believe it is a cultural thing with the ashes. They don’t look at the ashes as just gone forever but being part of a person’s spirit,” Bulliung said, adding that his clients all expected to one day be buried together.
Ken Varner, board president of Cypress Lawn Cemetery Association and Cypress Funeral Services, Inc., was unreachable for comment.
The family, according to Bulliung, said they suffered immediate shock, grief and disbelief because they had planned for a huge service at the mortuary and had purchased a resting place with plans to frequently visit and decorate the grave site.
The family visits Cypress Lawn but “have no feeling of connection” to Lin and don’t know whether any of her remains still exist or were washed down the storm drains, the suit states.
Bulliung said Cypress Lawn also wouldn’t inform his clients who the other families involved are.
A case management conference is scheduled for Nov. 21.
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