• Woman says she could face jail time because she can't afford husband's cremation

    By: Justin Wilfon

    Updated:

    MARIETTA, Ga. - Update:  After this story aired, Southern Cremations offered to perform their services for free but the woman says she is going to use SouthCare Cremation and Funeral Society after it offered to take her husband's body and do the cremation for free.

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    A local woman says she could face arrest because she can't afford the funeral expense for her late husband.

    A funeral home storing the man's remains said it may press charges for abandonment of a body.

    Betty Starnes said she made it clear when her husband’s body was brought to Southern Cremations and Funerals at Cheatham Hill, that she couldn’t pay for it up front. 

    But the funeral home tells a different story that could land her in jail.

    “It’s just unconscionable when you’ve lost somebody you love,” Starnes told Channel 2’s Justin Wilfon. 

    Starnes said it has been nearly two weeks since she lost her husband. Now, she’s worried she could lose her freedom.


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    “I went to pieces. I said I’m not going to jail and I’m not a crook,” Starnes told Wilfon. 

    When her husband died on Oct. 6, she asked the funeral home to pick up his body. It’s been stored at the Marietta funeral home ever since, awaiting cremation.

    Starnes said she can’t afford to pay the nearly $1,000 bill and unless she pays it by Friday or pays to move the body somewhere else, she said the owner of the funeral home is threatening to press charges for abandonment of a body.

    “He said this is a felony offense. I said, 'I’m not a felon. I want my husband’s body, but you won’t let me have it. You won’t work with me,'” Starnes said. 

    Wilfon went to the funeral home Wednesday night looking for the owner.

    He later sent Wilfon a statement, saying:

    “Southern Cremations & Funerals at Cheatham Hill is a local, family-owned business that serves hundreds of families every year in their time of need. Cheatham Hill Memorial Park has been assisting families in our community for over 38 years. We take excellent care of our families and provide the highest level of service to them, and their loved ones.

    “Southern Cremations & Funerals at Cheatham Hill received a call on October 6 at 2:13pm from Mrs. Betty Starnes requesting that we take her deceased husband, Mr. Kenneth Starnes into our care. We brought him into our care later that day. Mrs. Starnes visited our funeral home on October 7 and was apprised of all the costs associated with the services she requested, and signed a contract for those services at that time. As is reasonable and customary in our industry, Mrs. Starnes understood that payment would be required prior to cremation. She indicated that payment would be rendered by October 9.

    “We have not received payment for any of our services and have been actively working with the family for several days to address this unfortunate situation. Mrs. Starnes has been notified of all her options, including alternative resources that she could contact if she needed assistance in paying for the services selected. We are working diligently to resolve this situation. It is unfortunate that Mrs. Starnes has chosen to go directly to the media versus contacting the resources she was given, including our firm transferring her husband to another provider.”

    Starnes told Wilfon she was confused when she signed a contract and would be willing to set up a payment plan, but the funeral home’s owner told Wilfon by phone, he wants the payment in full before cremation, which he said is customary in the industry.

    “I said we don’t have cash up front. You people knew that coming in,” Starnes said. 

    She hopes someone will now help him and keep her out of jail.

    “Maybe someone will find it in their heart to help,” Starnes told Wilfon. 

    The funeral home’s statement said Starnes has been notified of all her options, including alternative resources that she could contact if she needed assistance in paying for the services selected.

    But Starnes said she has exhausted all of her options and no one can help.

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