'We had the shock of our lives': Woman wants funeral home held accountable over sister's appearance

Karina Olavarria says she went to pay her respects to her sister at the R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home but couldn't even recognize the person in the casket.

News 12 Staff

Sep 28, 2021, 2:31 AM

Updated 989 days ago

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One family is demanding that a funeral home in the Bronx be held accountable for their loved one's appearance during her wake.
Karina Olavarria says she went to pay her respects to her sister at the R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home but couldn't even recognize the person in the casket.
"We had the shock of our lives," says Olavarria. "My sister's body was decomposed. She didn't look nothing like her, the stench was unbearable. I want everyone to see what they did to my sister."
Olavarria says her sister Zulma Cedeno Leonardo died from cancer on Aug. 24. She says four days later at the viewing her family's final goodbye turned into a nightmare.
"I was like, 'Should I cry for this person? Is this really my sister?' And when I go to sleep, that's the image I see," says Olavarria.
The family protested outside the funeral home's office, demanding to know what happened.
Funeral law attorney Emily Albrecht usually defends funeral homes in court but says in this case the evidence shows a clear violation under New York's negligent preparation of a dead body law.
"Even the most talented embalmers can have cases where things kinda go wrong, but the important thing at that point, is to know how to mitigate that situation and repair it, so based on the photo I saw, those folks did not try to repair it at all," says Albrecht.
The family says they filed a complaint with the state Department of Health's Bureau of Funeral Directing.
In a statement, the bureau tells News 12, "Ensuring funeral directors adhere to all applicable state regulations related to the practice of funeral directing is a priority of DOH."
The family says the funeral home refunded the $3,200 for the wake after they complained. However, they say no money can erase the trauma.


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