- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

An Arlington family’s distress over the accidental death of a loved one was compounded this week by an “insane” mix-up in which his remains were cremated instead of being prepared for burial.

Relatives of William M. Heislup found out about the mix-up during a private viewing Wednesday night at the Jefferson Funeral Chapel in Alexandria.

The casket held the remains of John E. Walker, who had died with Mr. Heislup during a boating accident on the Potomac River last week.

A friend of the Heislups’ said the family “went ballistic” when a funeral director told them Mr. Heislup’s remains had been mistakenly cremated. Family members declined to comment yesterday.

“It’s crazy. It’s insane,” said a co-worker of the two men, who were both iron workers.

The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, which had identified the men’s bodies, issued a statement taking responsibility for the mistake. It attributed the misidentification to a “transcribing error” on the photographs of the bodies.

The medical examiner’s office did not identify the employee who made the error and would not comment on how the mistake was made. A spokeswoman for the office said the employee has been suspended for at least 30 days and will be required to complete retraining.

“We are devastated that this mistake was made and we regret any additional pain the families are suffering at this time of loss,” the spokeswoman said. “Our sincerest sympathies go out to the families.”

Officials for the funeral home released a statement expressing sympathy for the family, but noted that the error was not their fault.

“Our hearts go out to the families involved in this unfortunate incident. We at Jefferson Funeral Chapels provide funeral services and care for families in their time of need, but the identification process concerning accidental deaths takes place before we become involved,” the funeral home’s statement reads.

Mr. Heislup, 47, and Mr. Walker, 48, of Arlington, apparently fell into the Potomac River from a 17-foot bass boat on the evening of June 16. Rescue crews recovered their bodies after 4 p.m. the next day.

A third man with them, Raymond W. Molton, 43, of Arlington, also fell in but survived. He was pulled from the water, treated at a hospital and released.

A funeral for Mr. Heislup had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and a service for Mr. Walker was scheduled for this morning.

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