State investigating how man's body was mistakenly released to funeral home

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

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GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. —

The Georgia Secretary of State's Office is investigating how the body of a Gwinnett County man was handled after he died. Leon Anderton, 68, died of cancer on Sept. 8 at Emory University Hospital.

His family said the hospital mistakenly released Anderton's body to Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes, who embalmed him without permission.

The funeral director said he acted with verbal permission, but the hospital admits the home did not have the proper consent to take the body.

"While we acted in good faith and with all good intentions on behalf of the Anderton family, these procedures were not followed to the letter in this situation. We regret this error and have communicated with the family to apologize for the lapse and have offered assistance in transferring to another funeral home. We are carefully reviewing our procedures in order to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future," an Emory Healthcare representative told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman in a statement.

The body was released to Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes in Buford. The family said the home proceeded to embalm Anderton's body without permission, which violates their Orthodox Christian beliefs because it dishonors the body, according to family members.

"They desecrated his body as well, without authorization. We don't even know these people, we never even met them, so we are devastated," said Terrence Greene, Anderton's nephew.

Gregory Levett, the funeral director, told Stockman that he received verbal authorization to pick up the body and perform the embalming.

The family said a family friend called Levett funeral home to inquire about services and set up an appointment prior to the body being picked up. When they went to the appointment, the funeral director informed them, "He is here," according Greene.

"Everybody is just looking at him, saying how did you get the body?" Greene said.

State officials said that funeral homes can pick up bodies with just verbal consent, but the family contends that authorization was never given.

"Why would somebody have the audacity to take a body and do what they wanted with?" said widow Wendy Anderton.