An investigation is underway by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department following a case of misidentity that led a California family to bury a stranger instead of their loved one. Police are reviewing identification procedures to ensure this kind of error never happens again. In a press release, issued on Saturday, the department apologized for the mix-up.
The unbelievable events began when a body was found behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley. The family of 57-year-old Frank M. Kerrigan, a homeless man who suffered from mental illness, was notified and told the coroner was in possession of his remains.
The man’s father asked a woman at the Orange County, California coroner’s office if he should come down to identify the body. The woman said there was no need because fingerprints had been used to identify the body as that of his son. The family then arranged for a funeral and paid $20,000 to lay him to rest.
A few weeks later, Kerrigan’s father was shocked to learn that his son was actually alive and they had paid all that money to bury a complete stranger. A family friend, Bill Shinker, who had served as a pallbearer at the funeral, was the one who called Kerrigan’s dad to let him know his son was not dead, but rather was very much alive and standing on his patio, the Orange County Register reported.
When the family received Frank Kerrigan’s belongings, there were red flags that pointed to the body possibly not being him. For example, some of his prized personal possessions were missing such as his watch and favorite writing pen. However, through their grief, the family believed it was Frank because they had been told his body was positively identified using fingerprints.
Kerrigan’s family is upset, to say the least, and plans to take action by suing the Orange County Police Department for failing to make every attempt to properly identify the deceased person. The elder Kerrigan retained Costa Mesa attorney, Doug Easton. When he contacted the coroner’s office, he was told the Frank’s fingerprints were not a match to the deceased body. When the fingerprints did not come back with a match, they apparently used an outdated driver’s license photo to identify the body.
When the family realized Frank was alive, they contacted Orange County Police Department and let them know. California police re-ran the dead man’s fingerprints and got a match to someone else. At this time, the body has still not been positively identified, according to the Los Angeles Times. As for Kerrigan, he still lives on the streets. He has refused shelter.
By Trixie Dillwood
Photo Courtesy Google Earth