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Counties cope as indigent burials increase

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 26, 2013 at 9:11 am •  Published: February 26, 2013

Funeral homes are generally cooperative in setting up a burial if the body goes unclaimed, but balk at the expense, Kirby said.

"Some will not do them," Kirby said. "We feel like we should. They deserve a burial like everyone else."

In Kentucky, counties are required to pick up the bill for indigent funerals, something that causes occasional budget busting.

Buddy Dumeyera, a Louisville deputy coroner who runs the indigent burial program, has seen the annual number of pauper burials in Jefferson County jump from 65 in 2005 to 300 in 2012. The deaths cover everything from families who cannot afford a funeral to people with no one to claim their remains.

In Kentucky, many coroners will advertise in a local newspaper that they are looking for the next of kin for a deceased person whose remains have not been claimed. In Carmona's case, no one related to him or who knew him came forward, Dumeyer said.

"We didn't get a single call on him, not one," Dumeyer said.

Carmona's hospital records indicate he had no social security number and did not speak English, Dumeyer said. The records said Carmona had arrived at an emergency room on Jan. 8 complaining of abdominal pain, but did not indicate how he had traveled there. He was admitted, and, two weeks later, he was dead.

Municipalities have gone way over budget for indigent burials in recent years. Lexington budgeted $75,000 for the indigent burial program during fiscal year 2012 but ended up spending $116,000, said Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the Lexington mayor's office.

Kentucky allows coroners to cremate remains with a court order. Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America in Wheeling, Ill., said some states don't allow cremation as an option for indigents.

"Kentucky is quite forward looking," Kemmis said.

Kirby's funeral home won't consider cremation for indigents; a graveside service gives the family an option to reclaim the body and move it to a family cemetery in the future, should they choose.

"We always make sure there's something said and there's some type of service," Kirby said.

In Louisville, the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society at various high schools sends volunteer students to serve as pallbearers and handle any religious readings. For Carmona, a group of students from Trinity High School handled the duties. Their principal, Daniel Zoeller, told the students "there's a story behind every one of those graves," even if the students would never know what those stories were.

"None of us knew him, but none of us wanted him to be alone on his final journey," Zoeller said.


Associated Press writer Janet Cappiello contributed to this report.


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