A Durango woman was recently awarded nearly $500,000 in a lawsuit that accused a Montrose funeral home of illegally harvesting and selling her brother’s body.
The lawsuit is one of several filed against Sunset Mesa Funeral Home after an FBI investigation raised suspicion the funeral home was harvesting body parts instead of cremating bodies.
A Montrose County judge last week awarded Durango resident Julee Glynn the maximum in damages set by the state, $468,010, for the emotional and physical pain she has suffered as a result of the incident.
Glynn’s lawyer, Beale Tejada of Durango, declined comment.
The lawsuit officially names the funeral home and a business that harvests and sells body parts, Sunset Mesa and Donor Services, all owned by Megan Hess. Attempts to reach Hess were unsuccessful. The state suspended the funeral home Feb. 12, 2018, effectively closing the business.
Glynn’s lawsuit, filed in October 2018, alleged Sunset Mesa Funeral Home dismembered and harvested Glynn’s brother’s remains rather than cremating them, as requested, in March 2017. The funeral home gave Glynn a bag of cement she was told was her brother’s ashes, the lawsuit said.
“The defendants’ actions were so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency,” the lawsuit said.
The Montrose County judge found on Feb. 13 the funeral home civilly liable for the damages Glynn suffered. The judge wrote the funeral home was acting “maliciously” and “knew what they were doing.” The judge also ordered the original cost of cremation, about $1,100, be paid back.
The Durango Herald reported in January that another La Plata County resident, Terri Thorsby, filed a lawsuit against Sunset Mesa Funeral Home after a similar incident involving her deceased mother and possibly her father.
Thorsby’s lawyer, Chris Cowan, said Friday the courts have issued a default judgment that found Sunset Mesa Funeral Home liable for her losses, but no monetary awards have so far been ordered.
There are two other active lawsuits against Sunset Funeral Home: one filed by Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine P.C. on behalf of more than 60 families, and another representing the family of Gerald Hollenbeck.
Cowan said Hess has ignored all of the lawsuits with the exception of Hollenbeck. A month or two ago, she gave a deposition telling the courts she couldn’t afford a lawyer. Cowan said the FBI has yet to file any criminal charges.
“In my experience, the FBI doesn’t bring charges until their investigation is complete,” Cowan said. “With all the families and records, it could be taking longer, but ultimately, it’s up to the prosecutors to bring charges.”