Police: Hearse stolen with body inside

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ATLANTA - A hearse with a body inside was stolen Sunday morning in Atlanta.

Atlanta police spokesman Officer Ralph Woolfolk said authorities believe the hearse was stolen at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Police say the front end of the vehicle was smashed because the carjacker drove through the fence at the entrance to the morgue at the hospital.

The vehicle was deserted a few blocks away at 171 Auburn Ave.

Police identified the suspect as 34-year-old Henry Lyles.

Police say the Ford Flex hearse from Willie A. Watkins Funeral home was taken by force just before 10 a.m. Sunday at the hospital. Police say Lyles snatched the keys from the driver, but never showed a gun. He took off and drove through a fence. He then drove the hearse a few blocks before ditching it.

He then tried to take another car, but that driver sped off.

Lyles then stole a gold Ford Explorer that pulled up behind the hearse at the stoplight, police say.

A witness said Lyles forced the driver of the Explorer out of the vehicle.

"He walked to the truck and was talking to the driver and got out, walked to passenger side and just took off,” a witness told Gehlbach.

Channel 2’s Steve Gehlbach was the only reporter at the scene as crews towed the hearse.

The funeral home took the hearse to remove the body from the back and place into another vehicle.

Funeral home owner Willie Watkins was in Miami celebrating his daughter's graduation when his brother Darryl Watkins called him about the stolen hearse.

“It’s just, when you think about it, even the dead cannot rest in peace,” said Willie Watkins.

Darryl Watkins told Channel 2's Tyisha Fernandes, normally Grady security guards escort the drivers to the car, and make sure they're safe. Watkins believes there was a breakdown in security for the driver due to construction.

Grady sent Channel 2 Action News the following statement:

“It is not and has never been Grady's policy to have a security officer escort funeral home workers to their vehicles when they pick up a body from the morgue.  Morgue access at the hospital was relocated to the loading dock due to construction. The Grady security team is reviewing Sunday's incident to determine if additional security measures are needed.”

According to Darryl Watkins, Lyles was a patient at Grady.

Officers were able to catch Lyles in Douglas County and recovered both vehicles. 

"He might have been a mental patient. I don't know," Watkins said.

Watkins told Fernandes the driver, who has been transporting bodies for four years, has been traumatized by the carjacking.

Lyles is being held at the Douglas County Jail on a charge of theft by receiving stolen property. He's facing charges in Fulton County for the two carjackings.