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Family held funeral for loved one who died in Texas, only to find casket had wrong body, lawsuit says

The Gonzalez family has sued multiple agencies involved in mistakenly sending back the body of a different man instead of their loved one.
Credit: Getty/iStockphoto

TARRANT COUNTY, Texas — A California family held a funeral for their loved one, who died in North Texas, only to find the casket held the wrong body, according to a lawsuit filed in Tarrant County and obtained by WFAA.

The lawsuit – filed in March 2022 – said Jose Carlos Gonzalez died on March 20, 2020, in Grapevine. Gonzalez was a long-haul driver and became ill while driving through Tarrant County, the lawsuit said.

Gonzalez's wife, Cecilia Gonzalez, arranged with a funeral home in Chula Vista, Calif., to bring back the body of her husband for an open casket funeral service and burial. Jose Carlos Gonzalez was supposed to be embalmed and transported from Brown Owens & Brumley Family Funeral Home in Fort Worth to Chula Vista Funeral Home in California.

That's where the story allegedly took a turn. 

The lawsuit said multiple agencies involved in the transport of Jose Carlos Gonzalez failed to verify they were sending the correct body back to California. 

The lawsuit said Jose Carlos Gonzalez's body was mixed up with a man named Jesse Gonzalez. 

In the lawsuit, the last name of Jose Carlos Gonzalez and Jesse Gonzalez are spelled the same, but in medical examiner records, Jesse's last name is spelled "Gonzales" with an "S."

Jesse Gonzalez died in Fort Worth one day after Jose Carlos Gonzalez – on March 21, 2020 – according to medical examiner's records. 

The body of Jesse Gonzalez was supposed to be sent to the Willed Body Program at the University of North Texas Science Center (UNTHSC), according to the lawsuit. Instead, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office mistakenly sent Jose Carlos Gonzalez, where his organs was harvested and his body was cremated. Jesse Gonzalez was sent to Accucare Mortuary Services, the suit says.

UNTHSC and Accucare did not verify they had the correct bodies, according to the suit.

In April 2020, Accucare picked up Jesse Gonzalez’s body — which it mistook for Jose Gonzalez’s body — and took it to Brown Owens & Brumley Family Funeral Home, according to the suit. The Fort Worth-based funeral home embalmed Jesse Gonzalez's body and sent it to California.

The family learned of the mistake after it was too late, and the wrong body laid in the open casket, the lawsuit said.

“They found out that it wasn’t the correct body at the funeral, in my opinion adding to the shock value,” Megan David, the attorney for the Gonzalez family told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “The widow, the friends and family — they were all there.”

The lawsuit said the Gonzalez family "experienced extreme emotional distress upon realizing a complete stranger, Jesse Gonzalez, was in the coffin."

The Star-Telegram also reported that the Gonzalez family filed a separate lawsuit of of San Diego suing the Chula Vista Funeral Home, which handled Jose Gonzalez's funeral.

The Gonzalez family is seeking a trial by jury and a minimum of $1 million in damages, according to the Tarrant County lawsuit.

WFAA has reached Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office, the University of North Texas Science Center, Brown Owens & Brumley Family Funeral Home and Accucare Mortuary Services for comment. They did not immediately respond Tuesday morning.

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