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Health authorities shut Brooklyn funeral home for improperly storing bodies in U-Haul trucks

A Brooklyn Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home has been keeping dozens dead bodies from Covid-19 in unrefrigerated U-Haul trucks in front of their Flatlands building and were trying to remove them to a bigger truck. Police say 15 bodies were moved to a refrigerator truck before officials ordered them to stop. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

BY JESSICA PARKS

State health authorities have shut down a Flatlands funeral home on Friday morning after they “appallingly” stored dozens of bodies in several U-Haul trucks earlier in the week. 

“Following an investigation by the State Department of Health, I issued an immediate suspension order to the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home in Brooklyn – whose actions were appalling, disrespectful to the families of the deceased, and completely unacceptable,” said state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. 

Officers from the 63rd Police Precinct responded to a 911 call on April 29 at Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home at 2057A Utica Ave, where an eyewitness allegedly saw “blood coming from one of the trucks.” Upon their arrival, the officers found funeral workers loading bodies from U-Haul trucks into a mobile refrigerated truck. 

Authorities say the bodies had been decomposing in the flatbeds for several weeks, causing the area to be overrun with a strong odor. 

Zucker, who expressed understanding that funeral homes are struggling to keep up with death counts from the novel coronavirus, said that the businesses are still required to adhere to a basic set of sanitary standards — which have already been relaxed as a result of the pandemic. 

“Funeral homes have a responsibility to manage their capacity appropriately and provide services in a respectful and competent manner,” the health commissioner said. “We understand the burden funeral homes are facing during this unprecedented time. That’s why the state previously issued an order allowing out of state funeral home directors to assist during this crisis and took steps to ease administrative hurdles.”

A spokesman for U-Haul blasted the funeral home’s “egregious” misuse of their rental vehicle, saying they were in flagrant breach of their contract — and that they’ve been banned from leasing any more U-Haul vehicles.

“This is a wrongful, egregious and inhumane use of our equipment. Our trucks are designed for household moves. Properly caring for the remains of people’s loved ones requires vehicles suited specifically for that purpose,” said Jeffrey Lockridge. “Our trucks absolutely cannot be rented for this reason.”

While an NYPD spokesperson told Brooklyn Paper on the day of the incident that no crimes had been committed, officers later launched an investigation into the funeral home’s storage methods — although no charges have been filed as of May 1. 

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams pointed out that many funeral homes across the city are overwhelmed by an influx of bodies, but said the deceased must be handled in a respectful manner. 

“The horrific situation that was discovered earlier this week in Flatlands is unfortunately emblematic of what is happening across our city as the death toll from coronavirus continues to mount,” Adams said. “Families that have been traumatized by the loss of a loved one from coronavirus should not be re-traumatized seeing that loved one’s body being treated carelessly.”

The Beep also took time to announce the formation of his so-called Bereavement Task Force, which will bring together community leaders and attempt to help deal with the lacking capacity for storing bodies. 

“We will be convening a Bereavement Task Force, comprised of funeral home directors, faith leaders, morticians, hospitals, and cemetery operators, to develop a comprehensive plan for dealing with the uptick in bodies in a respectful way,” Adams said.

This story first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.

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