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Wrong Corpse Throws Harlem Man's Funeral into Turmoil

By Janon Fisher | May 5, 2013 5:21pm | Updated on May 6, 2013 8:23am
 The remains of Stanley Williams, who was killed by a Chevrolet SUV while crossing Harlem River Drive Wednesday night, got switched at the airport.
The remains of Stanley Williams, who was killed by a Chevrolet SUV while crossing Harlem River Drive Wednesday night, got switched at the airport.
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Courtesy Josette Ceruti

NEW YORK CITY — The family of a man killed trying to cross the Harlem River Drive last Wednesday got some added grief on Saturday when another man's remains were sent to his funeral.

"It was just an upsetting moment for me," said his sister Priscilla Reaves who lives Virginia. "There were already people showing up at the funeral home — it was just awful."

Williams, 50, who is originally from South Boston, Virginia, was living in New York trying to reconnect with his 11-year-old son when he was struck and killed by an SUV as he tried to cross the highway near 135th Street about 11 p.m on April 24.

His son's mother, Josette Cerutti, held a memorial service at Griffin-Peters Funeral Home on Adam Clayton Powell on Friday before his body was labeled and shipped via Delta Airlines off to the South to be buried next to his beloved mother, director Keith Davis said.

"On the outside [of the casket] we mark with permanent magic marker: the name, the flight information and who the remains are being sent to," he said. "All that is clearly marked on the outside of the box. Obviously, the person who did this was lax."

He said that the plane flew into Atlanta where Williams's body was switched with another man's and sent to Raleigh Durham airport for the service, according to the funeral director.

Willis Dunn, the director of Dunn & Son Funeral Services, picked up the corpse at the airport Saturday morning and took it to his Halifax, Va. parlor to prepare for the 5 p.m. service.

But when he opened the casket the paperwork, the family registry book and the corpse's toe tag all had the name of another man, whose name Dunn declined to give.

"This is my first encounter with this," said Dunn, who has been in the funeral business since 1979. "Naturally, the family was a little upset."

"We were dressed and ready to leave [for the memorial]," said Reaves. "They said the man had on a blue suit and we knew that Stanley was wearing a white suit."

It took the airline another 24 hours to get the right body to Raleigh-Durham and the other body to its destination in Columbia, South Carolina.

The family eventually held the funeral on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

Reaves said that the William's older son, also named Stanley Williams, was so upset he couldn't come to the service.

"The airline really screwed up," said Reaves.

They seemed to agree.

"Delta deeply regrets this unfortunate situation. We are investigating the matter and will work closely with the family during this difficult time," said Delta spokesman Russell Cason.