Siblings sue after one of four urns containing father's ashes goes missing

After losing their father to pancreatic cancer last year, Trayce Ford-Reyes and her three siblings decided to share his cremated remains.

It was agreed that the ashes of Joel D. Ford, 71, of Georgia would be split into four porcelain urns and shipped to the homes of his children. Ford-Reyes, who lives in Naperville, and her brothers in Texas each received urns.

But their sister, who lives in Indiana, didn't get one.

Now a federal lawsuit filed by the family is alleging the package intended for Tyna Kirk was damaged by the United Parcel Service - and that her dad's ashes were thrown in the trash and not recovered.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that Progressive Funeral Home in Georgia, The Mail Room in Georgia and UPS failed to properly package an urn containing Joel Ford's ashes.

"There are guidelines specifically designed to prevent this kind of tragedy," said the family's attorney, John D. Risvold of The Collins Law Firm in Naperville. "If they had been followed, it would have been prevented."

People who answered the phones at Progressive Funeral Home and The Mail Room declined to comment on Tuesday, saying they weren't aware of the lawsuit.

UPS spokesman Matthew O'Connor said the company hadn't seen the lawsuit but doesn't ship human remains.

"We will investigate the situation and respond accordingly," O'Connor said.

According to the lawsuit, the U.S. Postal Service is the only agency that allows the shipment of human remains.

But when Joel D. Ford was cremated in January 2018 and his ashes divided into four urns, someone decided to have them shipped via UPS, according to the lawsuit. Each urn was placed in a cardboard box that then was placed inside another cardboard box that was labeled "fragile."

The boxes weren't labeled to indicate they contained cremated remains, according to the lawsuit. The U.S. Postal Service requires a special label for packages containing such remains.

"I'm confident that if the United States Postal Service had been used - because they are the only legal shipper - that everyone in the Ford family would still have a piece of their father," Risvold said.

On Jan. 23, 2018, the package headed to Kirk's home in Indiana was damaged in transit, according to the lawsuit.

"Instead of delivering the damaged box, defendant UPS threw the box and its contents - Joel D. Ford's cremated remains - in the garbage," the lawsuit reads.

The Ford family filed the lawsuit after trying to work with Progressive Funeral Home, The Mail Room, and UPS to recover the ashes.

"They couldn't make headway with anyone," Risvold said. "Nobody could help them locate the ashes."

Risvold said all four siblings are very upset about what happened.

"Their hope was that each of them could have a piece of their father," he said. "Now a piece of their father is missing forever."

The six-count lawsuit is seeking financial damages.

Risvold said the family also wants to bring attention to the practice of improperly shipping human remains. "Hopefully, this doesn't happen to another family," he said.

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