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Family Files Lawsuit After Funeral Home Mix-Up

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Kimberly Byers says she and her family are still unsettled about a terrible mistake after her sister, Sheila Sterling, died of cancer last September.

Byers says, "I don't think we could truly express how we feel."

The family planned an open casket viewing for immediate relatives before the funeral service. But hours before, Byers says the Gonzalez Funeral Home and Crematory called to say they wouldn't be able to have the viewing.

"The remains they had were not of our sister. They were of a white male, and they weren't sure how that occurred," Byers says. "Everyone was shocked. We actually had a family member who exited the room because they were so upset."

What's worse she says, is they were also told her sister had already been cremated; the funeral home presented her ashes, but Byers claims they couldn't be 100 percent sure they were her sister's.

To Byers and her family, it's about the chance to have one final goodbye.  "And that's something we will never have."

Last September, the family filed a complaint with the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which has been investigating. And now the family has filed this lawsuit against the funeral home and two mortuaries.

In the lawsuit, Byers and her family claim the transportation company, Global Mortuary Affairs of Mesquite delivered Sterling's body to the wrong place, the J.E. Keever Mortuary in Ennis, instead of the Gonzalez Funeral Home.

By the time the mistake was discovered, the lawsuit says the Keever Mortuary had already cremated Byer's sister's body. The lawsuit claims both Keever Mortuary and Gonzalez Funeral Home violated state rules requiring proper identification of the remains in their possession.

Byers says, "Yes, we're angry, we're very angry."

The family says it just received a letter from the Texas Funeral Service Commission, saying it found "...a violation of statute and/or rule has been committed and assessed an administrative action and/or penalty against the licensee..."

But it doesn't specify which firm.

The state says the business that is cited will have 30 days to decide whether to accept the penalty or request a hearing or mediation in the case. Keever Mortuary and Global Mortuary didn't return our calls.

Gonzalez Funeral Home declined comment because of the lawsuit.

Byers says, "You just will never know, how do you put closure on that?  You never can, you never can."

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